James Grayson went job hunting in August 2003. He found the kitchen from hell.
A gay 38-year-old with a thin mustache, Grayson was hired as a line cook at Golden Corral on South Dixie Highway in Homestead. He made ham omelets and bloody steaks at the buffet table for mostly blue-collar families.
Regulars liked his upbeat personality, but -- according to a lawsuit filed last month in Miami-Dade District Court -- the other cooks didn't. They called him "faggot," "sissy," and "batty boy," Caribbean slang for gay. He quietly put up with it. But then he began to feel physically threatened.
In lengthy and explicit detail, Grayson contends restaurant employees and managers were so homophobic they made former Miss California Carrie Prejean look profoundly tolerant. The hate flared when Grayson was promoted to crew leader in spring 2004. "I think they resented taking orders from a gay man," he recalls during a recent interview at a Coconut Grove coffee shop. He pensively taps his long fingernails and says, "It hurt."
In January 2007, as Grayson was frying a steak for a couple of out-of-towners, Courtney Weekes, a Jamaican-born prep chef with a shaved head, became jealous of Grayson's tips. He slammed a butcher knife down on a stainless-steel counter, centimeters from Grayson's fingers. "Get out of my area, faggot!" he growled.
"My heart started racing," Grayson remembers. He reported it to management, but Weekes was not reprimanded. In fact, Grayson claims, management joined in the homo bashing. A week later, a slim manager named Mike Baker told Grayson: "Fuck you, faggot -- I will knock your punk-ass out," according to the suit.
The threats worsened. Three months later, Grayson asked a tall, gruff cook named Gary McKie to prepare fried chicken. He refused, so Grayson wrote a behavioral warning. McKie responded by pointing a knife at Grayson and saying, "Sissy boy, I'll bury you," the lawsuit claims.
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After Grayson complained about the harassment, he was fired. So he filed a complaint with the Miami-Dade County Equal Opportunity Board, and customers lined up to give witness testimony. In December 2008, the board found in his favor, which should help in court.
The June 23 lawsuit was filed against North Carolina-based GC Partners Incorporated. It seeks compensation for "back pay" and "mental anguish."
Owner of GC Partners, Dave Gronewoller, did not return calls seeking comment. Nor did company lawyer Nathan Atkinson.
Says Grayson: "People in the business world should know this is not OK."