January 14, 2011 10:33:00 AM
RIDGELAND - The general manager of Ruth''s Chris Steakhouse in Mississippi has been fired for a racially insensitive e-mail that company officials say inadvertently was sent to a Texas woman who had made reservations for her mother''s birthday.
Nonetheless, Ruth''s Hospitality Group President and Chief Executive Officer Michael O''Donnell in a statement released Thursday said Andy Nesenson, who ran the chain''s franchise in Ridgeland, was fired.
LaTrenda Watson, who is black, said in interviews with various media outlets that she was appalled when her reservation confirmation in December contained the offensive e-mail. She said notified the company after receiving it.
"The whole plan was to throw my mother a birthday party, and we wanted to have it at a nice restaurant in a nice setting. So we chose Ruth''s Chris," Watson said. "My heart just really dropped, and I was in total shock. And from that total shock, I began to get really angry and upset."
The e-mail, which has showed up on social network sites, said, "Another ghetto Sat. Party. They really love us don''t they. Especially on Sat. Call her and get her on the books if we have room, and I will take care of the rest."
Watson, a Jackson native who lives in Houston, Texas, said she made reservations on Dec. 7 for a 60th birthday party for her mother, a Jackson resident, that weekend with about 15 guests. She said she believes the manager assumed her race because of her first name.
"I took it as them looking at my name and saying okay this is a black person they must be ghetto," Watson said.
Watson said she canceled the reservation and moved the party to another restaurant.
Watson said she was contacted by Ruth''s Chris on Thursday and was told the general manager was fired.
Lee Baynes, spokesman for Cooper T. Smith, which owns the Ruth''s Chris franchises in Ridgeland and Mobile, said the original exchange was from Nesenson to marketing manager Wendy Stringer Partain, the e-mail shows. When Partain forwarded the confirmation to Watson, Nesenson''s message was included, Baynes said.
"It was an error on Mrs. Partain''s part and poor judgment by the manager," Baynes said.
Baynes called the situation unacceptable and said he has not heard of any similar complaints. He also said he is a firm believer in diversity in service and hiring.
O''Donnell said in the statement that the company was "saddened to hear and so very sorry that anyone associated with Ruth''s Chris Steak House would think or make a statement so misaligned with our culture. On behalf of all our employees and franchises I am sorry that this ugly, inappropriate incident happened."
"Though this employee and all personnel matters regarding him are not within our jurisdiction, we are appalled by this situation and strongly support the decision of the franchisee to terminate the employment of this individual from its restaurant," O''Donnell said.
Officials said Nesenson had been general manager at the Ridgeland restaurant since it opened in 2008. There are 120 Ruth''s Chris restaurants worldwide.
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