Food served off floor, suit says A cook says he was fired for defying a rule allowing it. The Deptford restaurant cited a "lack of productivity."

Posted: June 22, 2001

WOODBURY — A Washington Township man yesterday filed a suit alleging racial discrimination and saying his former employer, a popular restaurant chain, fired him for not serving food that had dropped to the floor.

The unlawful-termination suit, filed in Superior Court in Gloucester County, alleges that Bryan DiMenna was fired as a cook at Applebee's Neighborhood Grill & Bar in Deptford for not following what he described in court papers as the "30-second rule."

According to the suit, "if the food had fallen on the floor out of the patron's sight, [DiMenna] was told by Applebee's employees that the food should be put back on the plate and served to the patrons as long as the food had not been on the floor for longer than 30 seconds."

Officials of the restaurant chain, which is based in Overland Park, Kan., would not comment on the allegation.

"I don't know if we have a 30-second rule or what it is if we did," said Cathie Koch, a company spokeswoman. "We haven't had the opportunity to review the filing, and I am really unable to comment at this point."

Serving food that has been on the floor is an egregious violation of the state sanitary code, said Chad Bruner, director of the Gloucester County Department of Health and Institutions.

"I didn't mean to laugh, but a 30-second rule, that's funny," he said. "The regulations say any food that you drop must be discarded because it's not clean anymore."

Bruner said that he had never heard of such a rule in any restaurant, and that "it's just common practice" to throw away food that has been on the floor. He added that Applebee's had passed all health inspections in its four years in Deptford.

Court documents in DiMenna's suit said "this revolting policy was forced upon him because of Applebee's emphasis on short ticket times," the interval between when food is ordered and when it is served.

The restaurant's stated reason for firing him in July 1999 after three months of employment, court documents said, was that DiMenna "did not develop a sense of urgency" and because of his "lack of productivity."

A native of South Korea, DiMenna also alleges that employees called him "Liu Kang," a reference to a character in the "Mortal Kombat" video game, and harassed him about his Christian beliefs. The suit says coworkers also asked him "the politically correct term for Oriental salad," and wanted to know "what kind of rice Chinese people liked."

DiMenna, now 21, is asking for unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.

Applebee's has 1,286 franchises in 49 states and eight countries, including 20 in New Jersey and 36 in Pennsylvania.

Jake Wagman's e-mail address is jwagman@phillynews.com.

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