Allison Brown entered a California Subway restaurant on March 27 seeking only to bring home food for her family. What she received with her food were the words “Big Mama” written on the container; words that left her in tears. Brown, 45, and her attorney announced on Friday that they now plan to file a lawsuit against Subway in an effort to force them to require that their franchise agreements include sensitivity training.
Brown, a nursing assistant, recalls the mortification she felt when she returned home with her family’s Subway order, a 6″ sub and two flatbread pizzas, removed her pizza from the bag and saw that the Subway employee had used a black marker to scrawl “Big Mama” on the box. The insult caused her to immediately break down crying. She was unable to eat her meal because of those two words and what they implied – that she was too fat and did not need to eat. The Murrieta, California resident admits that she is already self-conscious about her weight, and seeing those words had a deep effect on her, causing her to consider whether she needed to have surgery to lose weight and to wonder if her appearance was really “that bad.”
Upon immediately contacting the owner of the Subway from which she had received her order, Brown was told that the employee had confessed to writing “Big Mama” on the box and defended himself by saying that he had only wrote the insult on one box and not on all of the items in the family’s order.
The owner also defended the employee, saying that he did not understand that what he had done was wrong. Brown claims that the owner of the Subway “begged” her to keep the incident out of the media, which she initially did. As time went on and Brown could get no further response from the management of the restaurant, she decided against keeping the episode secret, because “It’s not right. This really hurt me.”
After calling the corporate office of Subway the next day and leaving a tearful message that nobody ever returned, Brown began to feel as though the wrong that had been done to her was being ignored. She hired a lawyer to send a letter to the corporate office to demand sensitivity training. She sought no money, and in fact declined a $5,000 offer to buy her silence by signing a confidentiality agreement in addition to promising not to sue. Her lawyer, Daniel Gilleon, has stated that Brown now intends to sue Subway under the unfair business practices law of California.
On Friday, Brown reiterated that the lawsuit will not be filed in an attempt to get money from Subway. She sees hypocrisy in a company who markets itself as a healthy alternative to other types of fast food, but seems to condone employees writing weight-related insults on the food orders of its customers. Brown worries what might have happened if a less stable person than her would have received a message like “Big Mama” on their order. “What if they saw that and tried to commit suicide?”
A letter from the Subway corporate office, received this week by Gilleon, did not accept any responsibility for the incident. He intends to file the suit against them within the next few weeks unless they agree to require sensitivity training in their franchises. Gilleon is representing Brown pro bono.
For his part, the owner of the California Subway in which Brown received the box on which was written “Big Mama,” Sanjiv Mehta, told a local ABC station, 10News, that he tried to do the right thing. He stated that he does not allow any sort of discrimination in his restaurant and that upon hearing of Brown’s allegation, he immediately took action and disciplined the employee. He says that he also contacted Brown in an attempt to resolve the situation.
Subway’s public relations manager, Kevin Kane, stated in an email that neither the corporate office nor local franchises tolerate discrimination in any form. He also reiterated that Subway’s franchises are individually owned and operated and that all human resource matters are handled by the local owners.
As for Brown, she is not buying what Subway is selling, and that includes their food. She has vowed to never eat Subway again, saying “They don’t deserve my money.”
By Jennifer Pfalz