When Chad Waltrip appeared recently on the CBS reality TV show The Amazing Race, three of his co-workers in Miami say they had no trouble recognizing him. The 26-year-old former football player came across as selfish, aggressive, and ruthless in the pursuit of promotion. "I have no problem stabbing someone in the back to move them out of the way so I can keep going," he admitted on camera. "I'm not opposed to playing dirty."
Not even his co-workers could guess, however, that they would be the ones getting knifed from behind. Three former employees claim Waltrip fired them because they are black, booting them from their jobs this fall just in time for the holiday season.
Back in South Florida after his prime-time elimination, Waltrip allegedly turned his temper on underlings at Innovative Service Technology (IST), the facilities management company where he has worked since his aunt got him a job there as a teenager. When several checks went missing at Vitas Healthcare Corporation -- an IST client in downtown Miami -- Waltrip promptly fired 30-year-old Haitian-American David Ceva. But Waltrip didn't mention the missing checks on Ceva's pink slip. Instead, he wrote that due to "customer service issues," Vitas had requested Ceva's removal.
"The day I got fired, Chad wouldn't tell me what was going on," says Ceva, who has no criminal record in Miami-Dade County. "I never had a warning -- nothing at all. But I heard rumors around Vitas about the checks. Suddenly, I was the main suspect."
A week later, Waltrip fired two more Haitian-American employees: Anthony Lewis and Jean-Guy Rigaud, a salaried site manager. Like Ceva, they were shocked. Lewis, a 23-year-old Marine reservist awaiting deployment in Afghanistan, says that what hurt even more than the dismissal was that the only employee Waltrip kept was the sole white guy -- he had been on the job just a few months.
"I think it boiled down to race," Lewis says. "If there was something fishy going on, you'd want to replace the whole crew. Not just the black guys." To prove his innocence, he rounded up letters of recommendation from a half dozen Vitas employees before packing his things. (Vitas chief administrative officer Kal Mistry says she had heard no complaints about the trio.)
"We supplied the best service out there," says Rigaud, whose only peccadillo is receiving probation almost two decades ago. "But because we're black, he assumed we took those checks."
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"Chad's a corporate snake," Lewis adds bitterly. "He took a whole month off for The Amazing Race and then fired us without thinking twice."
The three men filed complaints in late October with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging racial discrimination. When asked by Riptide to explain the firings, Waltrip was tight-lipped. "Nope, I'm good," Waltrip said. "I'm going to hang up now."
Even if he wins a settlement against his former boss, Ceva won't be celebrating. His wife recently decided she couldn't live off of his unemployment checks so she moved back to cholera-stricken Haiti with their baby son. "I've already lost everything," he says. "I just want to clear my name."