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2 standing trial, charged in gay bashing in Rice Lake

UPDATE: On Feb. 12, the two defendants were acquitted. More to come.

Two people accused in the brutal beating of a gay man in Rice Lake last spring went on trial today (Feb. 11).

Rien L. Hendricks of Rice Lake is charged with substantial battery with the intention of inflicting bodily harm, a felony.

Shannon R. Hendricks also is charged with substantial battery with the intention of inflicting bodily harm.

The two were arrested following an attack on March 17, 2013, in Rice Lake that sent Timothy Phares to the hospital suffering head and facial abrasions, as well as multiple fractures.

Phares had worked with Shannon Hendricks at Applebee’s restaurant.

According to Wisconsin Gazette archives, Rien Hendricks, Shannon’s husband, allegedly struck Phares in the head with a 2×4 in the parking lot of another local restaurant on March 17, 2013.

Rien Hendricks was apprehended shortly after the attack on the battery charge.

Shannon Hendricks, who allegedly drove her husband to the scene of the assault, witnessed it and drove him away, was charged with battery on June 3, 2013.

The defendants face fines of $10,000 and three and a half years in prison if convicted.

Phares has said that when Rien Hendricks attacked him, he shouted, “Fucking faggot, I’m going to kill you.”

In the immediate aftermath of the attack, Applebee’s kept Shannon Hendricks in her position at the restaurant and defended her continued employment: “This very unfortunate personal situation involving two of our franchisee’s employees occurred during their free time and entirely away from the restaurant. The husband of one employee has been charged by policy 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.”

At the same time, the restaurant asked Phares — who said he endured anti-gay harassment at Applebee’s — not to return to work because of all the negative publicity.

Phares subsequently returned to his job after Greg Flynn, CEO of Apple American Group Franchise, intervened. He later resigned. And Shannon Hendricks also eventually left the restaurant.

Two days were set aside for the trial in Barron County.

Records indicate that the defendants were in court earlier this month but no plea agreements were reached. Both have pleaded not guilty.

Phares said when he arrived to the courthouse in Barron this morning, he saw that the defendants have two witnesses for the trial. The prosecution has at least eight witnesses, including medical experts and patrons of the local restaurant.

Phares also said he wanted to make a statement to the judge if there is a sentencing phase of the trial. Although the defendants are not charged with bias, he said what happened to him was a hate crime.

Phares was one of the first to testify in the trial.

Flashback 2013: Big gains in small places in 2013 in Wisconsin

The year 2013 was exceptionally frustrating for LGBT people in Wisconsin and our allies. We watched as two neighboring states — Minnesota and Illinois — joined Iowa and a rapidly growing number of other states in adopting marriage equality. Meanwhile, our LGBT leaders had to fight in court just to preserve a basic domestic partner registry law. The outcome of that effort to retain the most basic of relationship protections is far from certain, resting now in the hands of the state’s Republican-dominated Supreme Court, whose decision is expected by the middle of next year.

As we look back on the closing year, several stories leap out as particularly memorable and/or revelatory for Wisconsin’s progressive community.

Big gains in small places

Given the far-right’s iron-clad control of Wisconsin’s legislative agenda, the state’s equality advocates had no opportunity to match the historic achievements realized by their equivalents to the south and west. But grassroots leaders, with strategic assistance from Equality Wisconsin and Fair Wisconsin (now one merged group), nonetheless made advancements that will make a difference for many of the state’s LGBT citizens.

Continuing a trend that began several years ago, local legislative bodies throughout the state extended domestic partnership benefits to the same-sex partners of their workers. Those included Outagamie County, Kenosha, Stevens Point, Middleton, Verona, Grand Chute, La Pointe, Beloit and Fitchburg. The Appleton Town Council passed an ordinance that bans housing discrimination against transgender citizens. Some of the victories were hard-fought, while others passed with minimal opposition.

Wisconsin elects gay officials

While out U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin and Congressman Mark Pocan made headlines and history in January when they were sworn in to their new offices, other out candidates won local elections in Wisconsin this year.

Dan Manning became the first out gay town councilman in Fond du Lac’s history. A former Equality Wisconsin board co-president, Manning is an Army veteran and founder of the group Salute the Troops. He took the third most votes in Fond du Lac’s open April 2 election, defeating an incumbent who placed fourth. The Fond du Lac Area Association of Commerce was among the influential local groups that endorsed Manning.

Born in Vidalia, Ga., Manning is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where a decade ago he was closeted and a close friend of famed gay military activist Dan Choi. At the time, the two men were active members of the academy’s evangelical Christian community.

Manning is currently a manufacturing engineer at Giddings and Lewis, Inc.

There’s been a strong gay political presence in Madison for years, both officially (on the Democratic side of the aisle) and clandestinely (across the aisle). But 2013 brought historic gains for the lesbian and gay officials in the state’s progressive stronghold. Out Judge Rhonda Lanford ousted Dane County Circuit Judge Rebecca St. John, who was appointed to the job by Gov. Scott Walker in August 2012.

On Madison’s Common Council, three out gay incumbents — Mike Verveer, Steve King and Larry Palm — retained their seats and were joined by a fourth gay alder. John Strasser defeated longtime incumbent Tim Bruer, known locally as the “dean of the Common Council.” Bruer was not, however, known as particularly supportive of the city’s LGBT community.

Political wags said it was Strasser’s vigorous campaigning and Bruer’s arrogant expectation to sail easily to victory in a seat he’d held since 1984 that accounted for the upset. As a result, gays hold 4 of the city’s 20 Common Council seats, which amounts to 20 percent.

LGBT organizations strengthen in 2013

The year saw two stunning LGBT organizational achievements that gave Wisconsin a stronger foundation than ever for building community and mounting political advocacy efforts.

The Milwaukee LGBT Community Center completed a remarkable turnaround during 2013, bouncing back from near-bankruptcy at the beginning of 2012 to eliminate its largest debt, which originally amounted to $500,000 for back rent and remodeling costs owed to the organization’s landlord. With an expanding new menu of programs and services, along with a vibrant and engaged new board of directors representing a broad spectrum of expertise, the center is well positioned to support the growth and influence of Milwaukee’s LGBT community.

In mid-November, the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center also got a new leader. After conducting a nationwide search for an executive director, the center hired Colleen Carpenter to fill the post that had been temporarily held by Karen Gotzler. “Colleen’s extensive experience in program management, staff development, community outreach and grant-writing make her an outstanding choice,” said board co-president Paul Williams in a press statement. 

LGBT political organizing in Wisconsin also got a big boost in 2013 with the merger of Equality Wisconsin, a Milwaukee-based LGBT advocacy group, and Fair Wisconsin, which is based in Madison. After participating together in several joint events and holding months of talks about collaboration, the two organizations joined their boards and became one unified organization operating under the Fair Wisconsin name. In a press statement, the newly merged organization described the move as “the best path toward creating a more unified, stable and successful LGBT equality movement.”

By combining resources and supporters, the new Fair Wisconsin says it will have more political leverage and can provide the community with more effective advocacy efforts. Fair Wisconsin executive director Katie Belanger is the president and CEO of the group. Former Equality Wisconsin executive director Jason Burns took a position with U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan’s office.

Critical gifts for LGBT and AIDS groups

At a time when individual philanthropy for HIV/AIDS appears to be lagging, Milwaukee botanist Will Radler raised the bar with a $1 million donation to the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin’s mental health services. Radler, who bred the world’s best-selling rose — the Knock Out — is an out gay man who has donated to ARCW since 1992. But his $1 million gift was the largest donation ever given to ARCW by an individual. 

Radler said he hoped that his gift would remind others that the HIV/AIDS epidemic is not over and would challenge others to give.

Equality Wisconsin and Fair Wisconsin both received critical support in 2013 from Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, who presented two gifts totaling $175,000 to the organizations. The money came at a critical time for facilitating the merger, and it underscored Abele’s commitment to equality.

Gay Applebee’s employee bashed

While 2013 saw extraordinary progress for LGBT people all over the world, an ugly incident in little Rice Lake served as a grim reminder that the heart of homophobia is still alive and beating — literally.

Our most heavily read and commented on story of the year was about a gay server at an Applebee’s in Rice Lake who was brutally assaulted on March 17 by the husband of a co-worker and then told not to return to work due to the negative publicity generated by the story of his attack.

According to Timothy Phares and his sister, who was with him at the time, attacker Rien Hendricks said, “Fucking faggot, I’m going to kill you” before busting Phares’ head with a 2 x 4 piece of lumber. Phares was knocked unconscious and awoke in the hospital with severe fractures in his face and jaw.

The incident occurred in the parking lot of another restaurant and was observed by a patron through the window. But justice was not swift in coming, either from law enforcement or Applebee’s. Even after being pressured into letting Phares return to work, Applebee’s refused to fire co-worker Shannon Hendricks, who drove her husband to the crime. The local district attorney’s office declined to press charges against Shannon Hendricks for months or to consider adding a hate crime enhancer to the attack.

Nearly 150,000 people read the initial story about the attack on WiG’s website, and it was picked up by other news sources. An additional 20,000 people have read our follow-up stories and editorials about the incident. 

Catholic schools retract job offer to gay man

Another widely read story this year concerned anti-gay employment bias.

Timothy G. Nelson, a gay man who was living in New Mexico at the time, was overjoyed to sign an agreement naming him president of the Regis Catholic Schools system in his hometown of Eau Claire. Although the job entailed a $27,000 annual salary cut, Nelson was grateful for the opportunity to return to the school system that educated him and wanted to spend time with his mother, who was terminally ill.

But just three weeks after Nelson accepted the position, the Diocese of La Crosse suddenly withdrew it. Nelson said the job offer was revoked because the diocese conducted something of a witch-hunt and discovered he’s gay.

Interestingly, the diocese questioned Nelson’s sexual orientation because the name of another man had been listed parenthetically next to Nelson’s in his father’s obituary, suggesting that the two men were life partners. 

Julaine Appling, who heads the anti-gay group Wisconsin Family Action, also raised eyebrows when her name was listed in the obituary of the father of her longtime “roommate” Diane Westphal. Appling was the guiding force behind Wisconsin’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage and is now trying to have the state’s domestic partner registry law declared unconstitutional. 

But Appling and Westphal both continue to work for WFA — and continue to live together in a home they own jointly in Watertown.

Appling sells tickets to drag show

Every annual news summary should end on a happy note, and Julaine Appling provides this year’s concluding smile. She inadvertently helped to sell out a UW-Fox Valley drag show in Menasha after an “action alert” she issued about the event in March went viral.

Appling’s alert demonized the event as a “display of immorality” intended to propagandize young people. She urged readers to contact the event’s organizers and ask them to halt the program.

“The ‘main attraction’ is the guest appearance of self-proclaimed male homosexual transvestite ‘Shangela’ from a lewd reality television show ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race,’ in which homosexual male drag performers compete for prizes,” Appling wrote. “The tickets are cheap ($3), and so, it appears, is the propaganda, display of immorality, and overall message to the Fox Valley community.”

School officials said the event was paid for by student fees — not taxpayers — and described drag as part of a classic comedy tradition that pre-dates Shakespeare, whose female characters were played by men.

A story that WiG posted online about Appling’s rant went viral, and syndicated gay columnist Dan Savage, who’s based in Seattle, bought up the tickets and then gave them away, ensuring a sell-out crowd. 

So, Julaine, thanks for the memories.

Second person charged in brutal bashing of gay Applebee’s server in Rice Lake

A former Applebee’s employee has been charged in the brutal bashing of a gay co-worker in Rice Lake.

Shannon Hendricks was charged June 3 with substantial battery intended to inflict bodily harm, a Class 1 felony. Her role in the attack was identified as “party to a crime.”

The assault occurred early on the morning of March 17, when Rien Hendricks, Shannon’s husband, allegedly struck Applebee’s server Tim Phares in the head with a 2×4 in the parking lot of another local restaurant. Phares, who lost consciousness, suffered head and facial abrasions as well as multiple facial fractures that will require the implantation of metal plates into his face, Phares said.

Rien Hendricks was apprehended shortly after the attack and charged with substantial battery intended to inflict bodily harm. But Shannon Hendricks, who drove her husband to the scene of the assault, witnessed it and then drove him away from the scene, was not charged for nearly three months.

Both Shannon and Rien Hendricks face a $10,000 fine and as much as three and a half years in prison. Rien Hendricks has prior convictions for theft, false representation, distributing marijuana, bail jumping and violating unemployment law.

Phares’ close friend Kari Lindau told WiG that she’s angry that it took so long for the Barron County District Attorney’s office to bring charges against Shannon Hendricks. “Shannon called me at around 5 a.m. on the morning of the attack …  and said that her and her husband were driving around looking for (Phares and his sister Krista Kathrine),” Lindau said.

“She said, ‘Where the fuck are they?’” Lindau recalled. “I said that I had no idea. She said, ‘When we find them, Rien’s going to kill them.’”

Barron County District Attorney Angela Beranek said the lack of adequate staffing in her office caused the delay in filing charges against Shannon Hendricks.

Phares said, “I’m pleased to see that justice is finally being served, though it took a long time for Shannon to be charged. What Shannon and Rien did to me was out of pure hate. I hope to see a hate-crime enhancer added to both of the charges.”

According to Phares and Kathrine, Hendricks hollered, “Fucking faggot, I’m going to kill you,” before striking Phares.

But despite the anti-gay slur, Beranek told WiG in April that there is not adequate evidence to prosecute the alleged assault as a hate crime under the law as it’s currently written. No evidence has surfaced to change her mind, she said on June 5.

In addition to going nearly three months without being charged, Shannon Hendricks was also allowed to keep her position at Applebee’s for some time following the attack. Ironically, it was Phares who was asked by restaurant manager Tara Steinberg not to return to work. According to Phares, Steinberg told him that the attack had attracted too much negative publicity to keep him on staff.

Phares did subsequently return to his job as a server after Greg Flynn, CEO of Apple American Group franchise, intervened on his behalf.

In April, in the wake of growing publicity over the situation at the Rice Lake restaurant, Applebee’s issued a statement to the press defending the 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.”

On June 5, however, the manager on duty said that Shannon Hendricks no longer works at the restaurant, adding that he was prohibited from answering questions about her departure. Phares said she left the job prior to being charged in connection with the assault.

Discrimination?

Phares said Applebee’s managers in Rice Lake have treated him badly since the attack, and he believes they are trying to lay the groundwork for his dismissal. He claimed that he recently received absurdly low scores on a performance review in which he was wrongly accused of not smiling enough and other behaviors that he vehemently denied.

“I have been discriminated against by Applebee’s and their management and … I continue to experience discrimination,” Phares said. “I hope that (the management) one day will revisit a few of their policies and start treating people with respect and dignity.”

The relationship between Phares and his employer seemed to deteriorate rapidly after he returned to work following his bashing. Phares said he didn’t feel safe on the job, claiming that the husband of another co-worker threatened to kill him.

As news of the attack drew widespread public attention, dozens of people posted comments on the restaurant’s Facebook page – some sympathizing with Phares and others criticizing him. Phares was incensed that one post referred to him as a “faggot.” Despite his repeated complaints, he said, the restaurant refused to remove the slur until WiG brought it to the attention of corporate marketing manager Katy Sincko.

At first Sincko defended the remark, saying, “We aren’t in the practice of hiding things on there (Facebook).” But about 20 minutes after dismissing the homophobic language, she called to thank WiG for bringing it to her attention and to say it had been deleted.

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 she 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 a 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.

The company’s YouGov Brand Index, also known as the “Buzz,” tumbled from 35 down to 5 after Zane Terkel, CEO of one of the company’s largest franchisees, announced earlier this year that he would not build more restaurants or hire more workers due to Obamacare. He said that he should not be forced to provide health insurance to his workers. 

Applebee’s failed to meet any of the five minimal guidelines tracked by the Diners’ Guide to Ethical Eating, a consumer report on working conditions in American restaurants compiled by the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United.

Phares said despite all the negatives, he’s continued to work at Applebee’s because he likes the customers and earns good tips in an area where decent-paying jobs are scarce.

Applebee’s true values on display in Rice Lake

A homophobic diner visited the Applebee’s in Rice Lake last month, where he was waited on by out gay server Tim Phares. After slinging derogatory anti-gay epithets at Phares behind his back all evening – slurs that were overheard and reported by diners at nearby tables – the culprit called the following day to say he would not eat at the restaurant again until it fired Phares.

Instead of telling the bigot that he was no longer welcome at Applebee’s, the restaurant’s manager wrote up Phares over the incident. In effect, he was punished for being victimized.

A couple of days later, one of Phares’ co-workers drove up behind his parked car. Her husband leaped from the car, called Phares a “fucking faggot” and slammed him in the head with a 2×4 piece of wood. Phares was left unconscious on the pavement with multiple facial fractures that will require extensive surgery.

While her husband was charged in the attack, co-worker Shannon Hendricks was not. Neither was she fired.

Phares, on the other hand, was told not to return to work at the restaurant due to the negative publicity over the incident.

Phares did get his job back, but only after Apple American Group CEO Greg Flynn intervened, he says. The restaurant denies that claim but does acknowledge that Flynn became involved.

Applebee’s corporate marketing chief says the company has a nondiscrimination policy that includes sexual orientation and gender identity. She also says Applebee’s provides domestic partner benefits in states where same-sex marriage and civil unions are legal.

But at large corporations and bureaucracies, official policies seldom make it to the trenches – unless they boost profits. Many companies treat their diversity initiatives as window dressing. Sadly, that appears to be the case at Applebee’s.

It was not until days after the story of Phares’ bashing went viral that Applebee’s offered a public statement on the incident. That statement failed to once mention the words “gay,” “homophobia” – or even “sorry.” It contained no concern or compassion for the victim. Instead, it stubbornly defended the company’s refusal to fire or reprimand Hendrickson.

This should not be surprising. Applebee’s is hardly a model corporate citizen. The company fails to meet even one of the five minimal guidelines tracked by the Diners’ Guide to Ethical Eating, a consumer report on working conditions in American restaurants compiled by the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United.

The company’s YouGov Brand Index, also known as the “Buzz,” tumbled from a decent score of 35 down to 5 after Zane Terkel, CEO of one of the company’s largest franchisees, announced that he would not build more restaurants or hire more workers due to Obamacare. He said that he should not be forced to provide health insurance to his workers. 

With so many locally owned restaurants that treat workers fairly and even sponsor or host LGBT and other community groups and events, we urge you to think seriously about where you spend your money. The next time you’re dining out, ask yourself whether you want to reward companies like Applebee’s or support local eateries that put your dollars back in your community and share your values.

Applebee’s employee gay-bashed by husband of co-worker says he was told not to return to work due to bad publicity

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.”

Applebee’s waitress fired after posting pastor’s tip snipe online

The note at the top of the restaurant receipt read simply, “I give God 10%, why do you get 18?”

The snarky comment has created a furor online after a waitress posted it on the website Reddit. She has been fired, while the customer who scribbled the note has been vilified. And the controversy has forced the president of the restaurant chain to explain its privacy policies.

It began Jan. 25 when a customer who described herself on the receipt as a pastor shared appetizers with eight or nine friends at an Applebee’s in south St. Louis. Applebee’s spokesman Dan Smith said that the group was large enough that an automatic 18 percent tip was added to the bill.

The full cost for the table was $34.93, including the tip, which Smith said the customer paid despite the comment.

If the waitress for the table was bothered, she didn’t show it. But another waitress took a picture of the receipt and posted it on Reddit, adding her own response: “I’m sure Jesus will pay for my rent and groceries.”

Missouri’s minimum wage is $7.35 per hour, a dime more than the federal standard. For employees like waitresses, bartenders and pizza delivery drivers who receive tips, the state minimum wage is $3.63, though employers must make up the difference for those who do not earn the state minimum in any given hour.

By the next day, the posting went viral. The customer who wrote on the receipt was hearing about it. She contacted the restaurant. The waitress was fired.

Applebee’s President Mike Archer said in a phone interview Friday that the company stands behind its workers. But he said there was no choice but to fire the waitress for violating the customer’s privacy rights and the company’s social media policy.

“We have to protect our guests’ privacy,” Archer said. “There’s a lot of private information on those receipts.”

The backlash persists. Thousands have posted critical comments about the customer on Reddit, Facebook and at the bottom of news accounts. Applebee caught heat for firing the waitress and at least two Facebook pages were set up in support of her.

Kansas City, Mo.-based Applebee’s has roughly 2,000 restaurants in every state except Hawaii and 15 other countries. Archer himself once worked as a waiter and understands how difficult the job can be.

But he said violation of a customer’s privacy simply cannot be tolerated.

“It’s not favoring the guest over the employee,” Archer said. “It’s really a simple rule that we have that was violated.”

The waitress did not have a listed phone number. Messages sent to her through Reddit were not returned. The customer did not return phone and Facebook messages seeking comment.