A prominent Portland restaurant group fired—and then rehired—a Proud Boy acolyte, according to a work discrimination lawsuit filed by an ex-employee.
Jorge Bello, a server at downtown cocktail bar Saucebox from 2017 to 2019, alleges he was subject to frequent racist comments and harassment from his general manager, Nick Perdue. After Bello alerted the owners, Perdue, now 32, was terminated—only to be promoted months later to a higher position within Bruce Carey Restaurants, the parent company to Saucebox and other high-end bars and restaurants in town, including 23 Hoyt, Clarklewis and the recently shuttered Bluehour.
In the lawsuit, filed in Multnomah County Circuit Court in April, Bello, who is Cuban American, claims he continued to be treated unfairly by management after Perdue's firing in an effort to force him to quit.
The allegations arrive at a time when Portland's hospitality industry is undergoing an internal reckoning.
In July, restaurateur Maya Lovelace began sharing stories from food service workers on her Instagram page, detailing sexual misconduct, abusive behavior, and toxic work environments in bars and restaurants across Portland.
Lovelace stopped—she was later accused herself of prejudicial treatment of a Black employee—but the account @86dlistpdx continued to provide aggrieved workers with a platform. The accusations are producing real-world consequences: Last week, Dayna McErlean stepped down as owner of the Japanese restaurant Yakuza in part due to accusations of mismanagement that surfaced on the page.
In a statement to WW, Joe Rogers, who co-owns Saucebox with his partner, Bruce Carey, calls the allegations in Bello's lawsuit "inaccurate."
"Saucebox is fully committed to equal employment opportunities, does not tolerate discrimination of any kind, and is a proud member of the diverse Portland community," Rogers writes.
Attorneys for Bello, the plaintiff, declined to comment. But Bello's lawsuit alleges years of racist behavior by Perdue. The suit claims Perdue "stylized himself as one of the 'Proud Boys' and often regurgitated racist and misogynist philosophies in the workplace." He regularly used racial epithets to refer to Bello and sent him "racially hostile" text messages featuring Pepe the Frog, an icon of the alt-right.
Bello also alleges that Perdue's girlfriend, Maria Lanaras, a former bar manager at Saucebox, harassed Bello as well, referring to him as "little caveman" and flashing a white supremacist hand signal at him.
Bello says he did not alert the bar's owners to their behavior because Perdue told him Rogers shared their views and Bello feared being retaliated against.
The hostility between Bello and Perdue reached a head on Jan. 22, 2019, when the two engaged in a shouting match in the bar over Bello taking unauthorized cigarette breaks. Screenshots show Bello texted that he felt like "kicking [Perdue] in the throat." An argument ensued and Bello punched a door. He was escorted off the property by police. (Both sides dispute whether Bello quit in the heat of the moment or was fired by Perdue.)
In a brief phone call with WW, Perdue denied the allegations of racism and of having any association with the Proud Boys, referring to the lawsuit as "just a way [for Bello] to get a bunch of money out of the company."
"We live in a very litigious country," he said. "It's too bad, because none of that is true."
But following the incident on Jan. 22, documents WW obtained from the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries under a public records request show that Rogers conducted an internal investigation in which "some Saucebox employees confirmed Mr. Perdue espoused politics that made them uncomfortable and claimed he was racist." Perdue was fired and Lanaras demoted.
Meanwhile, Bello was given his job back. But in the ensuing months, Bello claims he was subject to retaliatory actions by Perdue's replacement, Mary Ulickey, including having his hours cut and being unfairly reprimanded for minor infractions. (Ulickey declined to comment, but according to the BOLI filing, she was an outside hire with no prior knowledge of either party.)
The final straw for Bello, however, came in May 2019, when he discovered that Perdue was again working for Bruce Carey Restaurants.
"After my two and a half years at this establishment, I cannot stand by the actions taken by you and the managers you've chosen to support," Bello wrote in an email to Rogers tendering his resignation. "To have about 10 of your employees come forward, corroborating my story, and also bringing forth many of their own terrible experiences with Nick, you have chosen to bring him back to the company in spite of our collective concern."
In response, Rogers told Bello that he was "misinformed." The BOLI filing, however, confirms that Perdue was rehired as an assistant to Rogers "to complete odd jobs with the condition that Mr. Perdue take a diversity training course."
Perdue declined to discuss his current standing with Bruce Carey Restaurants, but his LinkedIn page lists his job title as "senior administrative manager" for the chain. (He also works as an assistant general manager at Portland's White House, a luxury bed-and-breakfast in Northeast Portland.) In April, Perdue appeared on a local podcast to discuss the effect of COVID-19 on the restaurant industry and said his job is to "administrate and grow the business" and that he got the position by being "a loyalist to the brand."
At deadline, Rogers told WW the case had been dismissed. Bello's attorney disagreed with that characterization, and the case remained open in the court docket.
Bello is seeking $400,000 for emotional distress and $50,000 in economic damages. Saucebox remains closed due to the pandemic.