A Columbia Heights Taco Bell manager is suing his former employer for wrongful termination after reporting food safety violations.
William Bisek is suing Border Foods, Inc. after he was fired for “whistle blowing” and claiming there were food safety violations at the local store. According to the suit, Bisek was terminated the day after he reported the violations to upper management.
Bisek has a background in the food service industry, owning and operating restaurants in Centerville and Fridley for over two decades.
Interested in owning a franchise with the company, he was hired as a Taco Bell restaurant general manager by Border Foods in January 2017.
Bisek’s first two months were part of a training period on a path to manage his own Taco Bell store. During his training, Bisek noticed alleged food safety violations that were jeopardizing the health of customers, according to the suit.
These violations included water contamination with extensive and visible mold growing out of the water supply tank; beverage contamination with molded and decayed spouts from the dispensing machines; service of expired food to customers and fraudulent changing of expiration dates; water and air temperature discrepancies; and unacceptable levels of restaurant uncleanliness, including storage of the toilet brush and plunger at the front counter.
The court documents also state that the Columbia Heights Taco Bell had failed an internal audit related to food safety prior to his hiring. With another reinspection occurring soon, Bisek claims he felt that reporting these issues was necessary to pass the audit.
According to the lawsuit, Bisek reported the violations to store manager Nate Wenger on several occasions.
After management allegedly ignored his concerns, Bisek began recording the issues on Feb. 23 in a store log, using a Taco Bell corporate-mandated Safety Hazard Checklist as a guide. Also on Feb. 23, he states he showed many of these violations to both Wenger and area manager Ken Lund.
The following day, on Feb. 24, Bisek was terminated by Wenger. According to the complaint, Bisek had not been given any indication that he was not performing up to expectations and did not receive substantive reason for the firing. The complaint states that Wenger’s reasoning for the termination was that he doesn’t “seem to fit in.”
Bisek claims he attempted to receive an explanation from Lund the following week; he provided no rationale.
He then requested in writing a reason for termination from Border Foods.
Border Foods’ Human Resources Director Julie Pung provided Bisek with the written explanation that he was terminated “for failure to meet performance expectations during training,” including a “failure to retain training.”
The complaint states that these reasonings lacked credibility to Bisek, as he was never told that he was not meeting expectations or concern on “retention of training.” It also states that these reasonings were not discussed with Bisek by Wenger or Lund at the time of termination.
“Perhaps naively, I honestly thought Border Foods would appreciate me flagging these food safety problems for them. Because the violations were so obvious and the implications for Taco Bell customers so clear, I thought the company would quickly address them and I might even be looked at in a positive light for helping them come into compliance. I could not have been more wrong and it unfortunately cost me a great career opportunity,” said Bisek.
The lawsuit is brought against Border Foods for retaliation under the Minnesota Whistleblower Act.
Law firm Schaefer Halleen will be representing Bisek in the case. Schaefer Halleen is an employee rights firm, representing employees seeking resolutions to workplace issues. The whistleblower act prohibits retaliation against employees for reporting violations, suspected violations and planned violations of the law.
“The food safety violations at issue here are shocking and appalling,” said Bisek’s attorney Peter Christian of Schaefer Halleen. “The law protects employees so they can be confident that if they put their neck out in an attempt to stop their employer from putting public safety at risk, they will not suffer retaliation. We intend to demonstrate for the court that Border Foods terminated Mr. Bisek because he blew the whistle and to prevent him from continuing to do so. We believe the company’s conduct here goes to the heart of why we have whistleblower laws.”
Christian said these are some of the most blatant violations that he has seen in his time prosecuting whistle blower cases.
“We think this is an important case. The public has an interest in making sure that employees are protected if they have the courage to report potential law-breaking in the workplace, especially when public health is at stake,” Christian said.
Bisek filed the lawsuit in Hennepin County on May 30. Bisek is seeking the monetary value of employee benefits that he would have been entitled to, reinstatement of his job and compensatory damages in excess of $50,0000.
Contact Sarah Burghardt at [email protected]