FRANKLIN – A Marshall County man accused of making a racial slur on a restaurant receipt last year filed a $1 million lawsuit Thursday against Red Lobster and the Franklin waitress who posted his receipt on Facebook.
Devin Barnes' suit, filed in Williamson County Circuit Court, claims waitress Toni Christina Jenkins slandered his name and misused his personal information. It alleges that Red Lobster's "willful and malicious ... omissions to act" by not stopping Jenkins from using his name and information "to gain publicity and money" caused lasting damage to Barnes' reputation.
Jenkins made national headlines in September when she posted Barnes' receipt on Facebook, and later on YouTube, which had been left on a table she was serving. The $44.53 receipt, with a signature reading "Devin Barnes," said "none" on the tip line and had the n-word — spelled out — on the total line.
"This is what I got as a tip last night … so happy to live in the proud southern states … God Bless America, land of the free and home of the low class racists of Tennessee," Jenkins wrote on her Facebook page at the time.
Barnes denied writing the word and said he did not leave a tip because it was a takeout order. A handwriting expert he later hired also agreed with him.
Thomas Vastrick, a forensic document examiner with offices in Memphis and Orlando, Fla., said in his report that "no significant handwriting characteristics similarities" were found between the questioned "total" entry line and the handwriting samples provided by Barnes and his wife.
Barnes' pastor and attorney, Richard Dugger, who filed the suit, said the incident has caused his client to receive "threats from all over the world," and he believes Barnes has suffered "great harm and mental anguish."
"The plaintiff is not now, nor has he ever been, a 'racist;' but now as a result of the defendant's acts and omissions to act, your plaintiff has been tagged a 'racist' world wide," the suit says.
The suit alleges that Jenkins exploited Barnes and intentionally dramatized the issue "to a point that she profited from it."
The viral nationwide spread of the incident prompted Matthew Hanson, founder of AddictingInfo.org, to collect donations for Jenkins through an online fundraiser called "Tips for Toni." On Sept. 30, Hanson gave a $10,719 check to Jenkins, who was unaware of the fundraiser at the time. More than 1,000 contributed worldwide.
The suit equally faults Red Lobster, saying the business did not take appropriate actions against its employee nor resolve the matter properly with Barnes.
Red Lobster issued this statement today in response to the lawsuit:
"As we shared before, it is against our policy to post guest information online. Our standard procedure is to suspend the employee involved with pay while we determine what happened. After the completion of a full investigation into this matter, Miss Jenkins returned to work. As we also shared, we were disgusted by the language used on this guest check as it has no place in our restaurant or anywhere else"
Jenkins said last year she was only trying to draw attention to racism. She said if she had known the kind of stir it was going to cause, she would have marked the name off of the receipt.
"I was not trying to get back at him or bring any attention to him at all," Jenkins told The Tennessean last year. "I have nothing against him. I can only imagine what he is going through. I was trying to bring attention to racism.
"I am saying whoever wrote it was wrong in whatever manner it was written."