UPDATED 5:20 p.m. April 2
A gay employee of Applebee’s in Rice Lake was brutally bashed by the husband of a co-worker, then told by the restaurant’s manager he could not return to his job due to publicity surrounding the incident, he said.
Timothy Phares subsequently did return to his job as a server after Greg Flynn, CEO of Apple American Group franchise, intervened on his behalf.
According to Phares and his sister Krista Kathrine, they were getting out of his car in the parking lot of a Perkins restaurant at about 6 a.m. on March 17 when Rien Hendricks and his wife Shannon Hendricks pulled up behind them in an SUV.
“(Hendricks) was getting out of his vehicle, and he said, ‘Fucking faggot, I’m going to kill you,’” Phares said.
At that point Phares said Hendricks struck him in the head with great force using a 2 x 4 piece of lumber. In a written statement, Krista Kathrine said she heard her brother’s head smack the pavement, but Tim Phares lost consciousness and doesn’t remember anything else before waking up in the hospital.
Phares suffered head and facial abrasions as well as multiple facial fractures that will ultimately require surgery to implant metal plates, he said.
Earlier in the evening, Phares and his sister had attended a party at the Hendricks’ home, but said they left because the couple had treated them rudely, they said.
According to a criminal complaint filed by the Barron County District Attorney’s office, a patron seated in Perkins at the time of the alleged attack was a witness to what occurred both immediately before and after the incident.
Hendricks, 36, who lives at 527 Phipps Ave. in Rice Lake, was taken into custody and charged with substantial battery intended to inflict bodily harm, a Class 1 felony. He faces a $10,000 and a much as three and a half years in prison.
Hendricks, who has prior convictions for theft, false representation and distributing marijuana, is free on bail. In the past, Hendricks has also faced charges for bail jumping and violating unemployment law.
In addition to retaining her job at Applebee’s, Shannon Hendricks has not been charged for her role in the attack.
Despite the anti-gay slur shouted prior to the attack, there is not adequate evidence to prosecute the alleged assault as a hate crime, according to Barron County District Attorney Angela Beranek. She said Wisconsin law requires evidence that a crime was committed wholly or in part due to the perceived sexual orientation of the victim in order to attach a hate-crime enhancement to the charges.
Beranek said no such evidence exists in this case.
In the wake of growing publicity over the story, Applebee's issued a statement to the press today defending the Rice Lake restaurant's decision to keep Shannon Hendricks on the job.
"This very unfortunate personal situation involving two of our franchisee's employees occurred during their free time and entirely away from the restaurant," wrote company spokesperson Dan Smith. "The husband of one employee has been charged by police with felony assault. The police have informed us that this individual’s wife, who works at the restaurant, has not been charged and is not a subject in the investigation. The employee who was attacked is still employed with the franchisee. Although he had voluntarily resigned prior to the incident, the franchisee encouraged him to remain employed and he accepted that offer. Our franchisee continues to monitor the investigation, and if there are any further developments related to any of its employees, it intends to evaluate the information and act accordingly."
Slurs and threats
Although Phares returned to work at Applebee’s, he doesn’t expect to remain on the job for long. He said he’s disappointed that the restaurant refuses to dismiss Shannon Hendricks, who drove her husband to the crime scene and watched the assault. And he’s angry that the restaurant allowed a post to remain on its Facebook page calling him a “faggot,” despite his complaints, he said.
The anti-gay slur was removed after WiG brought it to the attention of corporate marketing manager Katy Sincko, who at first defended the post, saying, “We aren’t in the practice of hiding things on there (Facebook).” About 20 minutes later, however, she called to thank WiG for bringing the slur to her attention and to say it had been deleted.
Phares said the reason behind the assault is a mystery to him, although a local source familiar with the players in this story contacted WiG to say there’s more to it than Phares is revealing. The source claimed that Phares’ behavior played a role in prompting his problems at Applebee’s as well as the attack.
Phares said he’s aware that he has local detractors and dismissed their take on the situation as “ridiculous.”
The attack appears to be related to an incident that occurred in the restaurant just days prior. After being treated abusively by a diner he was serving, Phares said he asked restaurant manager Tara Steinberg to have someone else take over the table, a party of eight. According to Phares, he was following company policy.
As the diner was leaving the restaurant, other patrons who’d been seated nearby said the diner had made a number of embarrassing anti-gay and homophobic slurs while Phares was serving him, according to Phares.
“The patron called the restaurant the next day and said he would not come back inside the restaurant until I was fired,” Phares said. “(Steinberg) told me they were going to write me up for the situation, and if I got one more write-up I would be fired.”
At that point, Phares said, he put in his two-week notice.
But before the attack, Phares had a change of heart and told Steinberg he wanted to take back his notice. She agreed at the time, he said, but following the attack she told him that his bashing had attracted so much negative publicity that the restaurant didn’t want him back. Steinberg said she could not comment on an employment matter.
It was only after Flynn and Sincko intervened that Phares got his job back, he said. His initial gratitude toward the company over its intervention and concern for his injuries faded when the restaurant refused to delete homophobic remarks posted on its Facebook page.
Phares said he doesn’t feel safe on the job, claiming that the husband of another co-worker threatened to kill him if he returned to Applebee’s.
Sincko told WiG that Applebee’s has a non-discrimination policy that includes sexual orientation and gender identity. She also said the company provided domestic partner benefits to workers in states where same-sex marriage and civil unions are legal, but noted that franchisees might have different policies.
Phares’ case is not the first high-profile embarrassment for Applebee’s. In February, a server at an Applebee’s in St. Louis was fired after posting an image of the receipt left behind by a pastor on the online site Reddit. On the receipt, the pastor wrote a complaint about the automatic 18-percent tip added to the bill (for a party of eight), saying, “I Give God 10 percent Why do you Get 18?”
Applebee’s firing of the waitress who posted the receipt prompted a massive Internet backlash against the company.
Rice Lake also took a negative turn in the headlines last year when GOP state Rep. Roger Rivard, who represents the area in Madison, provoked outrage nationwide after publicly stating that “some girls rape easy.”
Phares said that despite what’s happened to him recently, he’s happy to be back in his hometown after living in Portland, Ore., and Austin, Texas. He said local residents and his family have overwhelmingly supported him throughout his ordeal.
“People have reached out and asked me to come work for them,” he said. “I think the people here have come a long way.”