On October 13, local bar and grill Fat Joes in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin made national news when one of its waitresses, 27-year-old Brittany Rossio-Spencer, refused to serve a transphobic couple and was fired shortly after. Since then, Spencer has appeared on national news sharing her side of the story helping her achieve 6000+ twitter followers, support from the LGBTQ community, and the chance to speak at several events.
The day the incident happened also happened to be the day of Fond du Lac High School’s homecoming and Fat Joes was short-staffed. “We like to make sure our employees can get off for important events like that, so I was one of the only ones on the floor,” Fat Joes manager and co-owner Whitney Wallender said. That Sunday there was also a Wisconsin Badger game on, making Fat Joes a packed house.
In the midst of the busy environment, two customers began making transphobic comments to each other about a table that was seated across the room. According to Spencer, she was standing a couple of feet away when she heard these comments and that is when, “the couple making the transphobic comments initiated conversation with me, you know they tried to draw me into the conversation asking me if I agreed with them and I was like ‘no I don’t agree with that’ and I walked away.”
However, other servers working that night said that never happened and it was just a conversation that she overheard and was never approached with. The table next to the one where the transphobic comments were being made, “never knew anything that had happened that entire night, and they even asked, ‘when did that happen? We would have never known,’” said Wallender, indicating that the conversation between the two was a private conversation that was not for others to hear.
After Spencer had overheard this conversation, she went to Wallender and “almost yelling, said, ‘I refuse to serve that table’ to which I said okay, well if you refuse to serve tables then you can go home.” Both Spencer and the Wallender have both confirmed that servers can switch tables with one another and do so all the time for any reason. However, in this situation, “She didn’t ask to switch tables or anything, she just simply refused to do her job,” stated Wallender.
When Spencer decided to leave instead of continuing her shift, both Wallenders had a discussion later that night about letting her go due to her actions that night and based on her previous habits of calling in sick several times and showing up late consistently. They had decided to talk with her the next morning at the scheduled work meeting. Then after seeing Spencer’s Facebook post regarding the incident, they thought, “It was very unprofessional how she handled things and there were other instances that happened before that, so we just thought it was best to go our separate ways,” said Whitney, confirming their decision to let Spencer go.
Following this, Fat Joes received harassment through phone calls, emails, and social media. The restaurant has taken down it’s Facebook page and has been hesitant to speak out and give their side of the story. Three weeks have since passed and now both parties are ready to share their story.
Brittany Rossio Spencer had been a part-time employee at Fat Joes for almost 2 months and considered it to be a good way to get “quick and easy money.” Spencer stated, “I didn’t need a big girl job. It was just a way to get extra cash.”
Having worked in restaurants before, Spencer had experience working in customer service. Yet working as a server in a bar setting was unchartered territory for Spencer. Regardless, Spencer took the job and stated that she was never made aware of Fat Joes’ policy in taking a neutral stance when serving customers.
However, later in the interview, Spencer noted that she did, in fact, have prior knowledge about the policy from co-owner Whitney Wallender herself. Spencer stated, “People had said, and even Whitney as the manager said, ‘You’ll hear people making racist comments, you’ll hear people say stuff that you don’t agree with so just ignore it and do your job,’ so yeah it takes place there. They made it very clear that stuff like that does happen, and it’s a bar I get it, people are drinking and they say stuff.” Having revealed this information, Spencer’s argument that she was never made aware of this policy or had any prior information regarding a situation like this is discredited.
“I have no issue with people having other views, different beliefs, and other opinions, like that is completely fine, but the second that you’re saying them out loud and saying them to other people that’s when your crossing the line.” Spencer said. According to this statement people are “crossing the line” when vocalizing their opinions, beliefs, and views in restaurants, bars, and in public settings in general. Even if you are having a conversation with the person sitting across from you Spencer believes, “once you’re saying it out loud and in a public place, that’s when it becomes inappropriate.”
However, contradicting her own stance, Spencer later mentions she had made this Facebook post after being fired from Fat Joes saying, “I asked people to you know, go leave reviews on if they thought what happened was wrong, which I got an overwhelming response from that.” Spencer using Facebook, a public platform, and asking others to go leave their opinions and thoughts on Fat Joes’ public page, contradicts her own stance on how it is wrong to share one’s opinions, beliefs and views on public platforms. Spencer had shared the purpose of this post was to simply bring awareness to people on what had happened and had no intention “to bash anybody or to be mean, I certainly don’t want anyone to be harassed.”
Yet when she was asked if she was surprised to have received an immense following after the post she stated, “Yeah I really was! I just thought a couple of my friends would leave reviews saying, ‘Hey you guys suck for what you did,’ and like that would be the end of it.” This reveals that Spencer’s initial statement about her intention of not being harrassing in any way is not the truth, as she specifically asked for others to comment on the situation. Having heard these inaccuracies within her story so early into the interview it has called into question whether any of parts her story are factual.
Spencer is currently pursuing a degree in Business Management and HR and said, “because I’m a business major and have so much experience managing in that position, I don’t think that’s a fireable offense.” Then she continued to mention that she views the Wallenders to have a “God Complex” and that, “being a business major I can kinda identify that, you know, they don’t really know they are doing.”
However, sticking with their initial statement, the Wallenders, who have been in the business industry for 45 years, dismissed Spencer for neglecting to do the job she was hired for and this proved to be a “fire-able offense.” Other employees and the Wallenders have also never heard this term “God complex” being used in the establishment or in reference to them.
Fat Joes Bar and Grill aims to “first and foremost ensure safety for everyone within its establishment. Aside from that, and what has always been our statement is that we don’t discriminate against anyone; we welcome everyone that steps through that front door, whatever color your skin is, any of your beliefs, wherever you align with, we welcome you in, it’s been our practice from the beginning.”
Fat Joes Bar and Grill has undergone scrutiny these last several weeks for dismissing an employee that had neglected to do her job in several instances. Meanwhile, the ex-employee has been hailed a hero for it but based on her interview and the several inaccuracies and contradictions within her story, perhaps the media coverage that surrounded this story was one-sided.
When asked if both parties wished they would have done something differently or better, Spencer stated, “No I don’t think anything I did was wrong.” Wallender stated, “Of course, always, anytime you make a decision as a business owner you always wonder if it’s the right decision you made or if there’s something you could have done that was better, if you’re not always looking to become better in anything you do then you are just not going to do better.”
Moving forward, Fat Joes will continue to serve “good food, beverages and live entertainment for the enjoyment of our customers,” while maintaining its policy on welcoming everyone and “continuing to drive the field of community aspect.” Spencer, on the other hand, will be moving forward running her online website, attending galas, and catering to her 6000+ followers.