CRYSTAL LAKE – Tea party members, conservative bloggers and radio hosts are rallying in support of a Woodstock waitress who says she was fired from the Crystal Lake Outback Steakhouse for wearing a political bracelet and admitting tea party sentiments.
Twenty-three-year-old Megan Geller of Woodstock said that a couple dining at the restaurant in early October took offense to a bright yellow bracelet with the words "Don't Tread On Me" imprinted on it.
Outback's Chief Legal Officer Jospeh Kadow said Geller was fired for her inattention to customers that evening.
"Megan Gellar was not let go because of her tea party bracelet," Kadow said in a statement to the Northwest Herald. "On the night in question two separate tables complained about her lack of attention."
When the manager spoke to Geller about these complaints, she responded by yelling at him with a hostile attitude and that led to her termination, Kadow said.
Geller says she told the diners her mother, Tonya Franklin, gave her the bracelet after Franklin received it at a tea party event. Those last three words incensed the couple, who then asked for the manager, Geller said.
Holding signs, and waving American flags and yellow "Don't Tread On Me" banners, a weekend protest outside the restaurant was held against what demonstrators called a violation of Geller's free speech rights.
Conservative bloggers and radio hosts also have spread Geller's story.
"They stirred up the wrong hornet's nest and messed with the wrong mama," Franklin said at the protest Saturday. "When mama's get mad, mama's get to work."
Megan said she feigned ignorance when the customers questioned the bracelet's meaning.
"I didn't want to talk politics at work," she said.
Geller claims she wore the bracelet "for months" with no prior warning from restaurant management and was never asked to remove the bracelet.
"She was not fired because a customer complained about her bracelet," Kadow said. "That would have simply been handled by asking her to take off the bracelet."
Documents from the Illinois Department of Employment Security provided by Geller state that she was fired for misconduct, but she should not have been denied unemployment benefits.
"The evidence shows the claimant was discharged from [Outback Steakhouse] because they received a couple complaints from customers since she was wearing a bracelet with a political point of view," according to documents from the state agency. "Since the claimant's action, which resulted in her discharge was not deliberate or willful, the claimant is not ineligible for benefits."
Outback did not challenge Geller's unemployment claim, or submit any information regarding her claim, Kadow said.