Rosie’s Diner accused of discrimination

Steven Harbaugh

Former student says he was fired for his sexuality

Jay Welch claims he was fired from Rosie’s because he’s transgender. General Manager Cindy Nichols claims he was let go for use of unsanitary procedures.

Credit: Steven Harbaugh

A co-worker confronted Jay Welch, a former Kent State student and temporary employee at Rosie’s Diner, about his sexual identity at work.

Not wanting to elaborate in front of his fellow employees, Welch referred the co-worker to an article about his transgender identity and relationship with his girlfriend in Fusion magazine’s Fall 2004 issue titled, “A Couple in Transition.” The next day Welch came to work — he was fired.

Welch, a biological female who was born as “Kyana,” lives life as a man and uses the name “Jay.”

Welch prefers the pronoun “he,” lowers his voice in public and dresses as a man. He recently returned to Kent from Chicago to be by his girlfriend and found temporary employment for the semester at Rosie’s Diner until May — but he was terminated after three weeks.

Cindy Nichols, general manager of Rosie’s Diner, said the reason Welch was let go has nothing to do with his transgender identity. Welch was let go due to using unsanitary procedures on the job, she said. Nichols preferred not to go into detail so students wouldn’t generalize that all employees at Rosie’s Diner use unsanitary procedures.

“We talked to her about the unsafe procedures, then she walked off,” Nichols said. “That was really the issue, as far as I was concerned. We would have let her work out the week.

“When you’re risking other people and their safety and their well-being, then that’s not good.”

The university recently approved a new, more strict discrimination policy that prohibits unlawful discrimination and harassment for a variety of reasons, including race, religion, gender and sexual orientation.

Justified termination?

Frequently changing his gloves on the job and always using safe, sanitary means of food preparation was an important skill Welch gained at other food service jobs, he said.

Welch said being fired for sanitary procedures is a decoy for the real reason: prejudice based on both sexual identity and race.

After being fired from Rosie’s, Welch consulted PRIDE!Kent for help. The group referred Welch to the Office of Affirmative Action and Kent’s ACLU chapter, where Welch filed complaints.

He also attended last week’s PRIDE!Kent meeting to voice his frustrations, resulting in PRIDE!Kent voting to boycott Rosie’s Diner. A representative from Black United Students at the meeting said she would consult with BUS to see if the group would also like to be involved in the boycott.

“We are partaking in a boycott by an overwhelming majority of the membership against Rosie’s because of the way they treat the LGBT community,” said Chris Taylor, secretary of PRIDE!Kent. “Especially after hearing Jay present his story at the meeting, I don’t think it’s a very safe place for the homosexual community.”

Nichols, the general manager of Rosie’s Diner, said the allegations of Rosie’s being homophobic and racist are completely false.

“That is totally untrue,” she said. “I really think we do things fairly.”

Hiring and firing

Nichols asserted that despite being tolerant, Rosie’s does not tolerate incompetence on the job.

“If we have an accumulation of problems, we will fire students,” she said.

The amount of employee warnings at Rosie’s is based on a point system for part-time and full-time employees. Three points result in termination. But this does not apply for temporary employees who only work three or four days per week. Hence, Welch was fired without first having three strikes against him.

Welch was fired and not given any documentation as to why, which is not required because he is a temporary employee, according to Nichols.

“I said, ‘The sanitary thing doesn’t sound right to me. Is there something else you’re not telling me?’” Welch recalled.

Welch became so frustrated when he was fired that he walked out.

Nichols said that, on the contrary, the work environment is tolerant, and so is the hiring process.

“A large majority of the time when people come in for interviews, we give just about every single person an opportunity,” Nichols said. “I can’t think of an instance when we don’t give someone a chance.”

Employee altercations

One time while Welch worked at Rosie’s, a fellow employee was making a wrap sandwich that broke. “That’s so gay,” the employee blurted out.

Welch said he told the employee not to say that around him because it is offensive to the gay community. The incident resulted in a confrontation with both employees and management.

“I was vocal about what upset me,” he said. “They didn’t like that.”

Although Welch got along with most of his fellow employees, sometimes they were ignorant, he said.

Emily Davis, senior English major and Welch’s roommate, said she thought Rosie’s would be a welcoming place of employment.

“I think people think it’s easy to say we’re pulling out the race card or the gay card,” Davis said. “But people don’t understand until they’ve been discriminated against what it feels like.”

Welch said he has demanded answers from Rosie’s, but the management does not return his phone calls.

“Everyone at Rosie’s is covering their tracks,” Welch said. “They need to sit through a class on diversity.”

Contact religion and culture reporter Steven Harbaugh at [email protected].