By Julian Routh and Brittney Jackson | The Duquesne Duke
A former manager of the Milk Shake Factory on the South Side claimed in a lawsuit this week that her supervisor demanded she hire only all-American girls with blonde hair and blue eyes, preferably from Duquesne University.
Denise Beloncis, 43, filed a lawsuit Tuesday in U.S. District Court, Downtown, saying she was fired on Nov. 23, 2012 after refusing to comply with her supervisor’s hiring instructions.
Beloncis, who worked as general manager, claimed supervisor Megan Adams told her to hire the “all-American girl.”
“The all-American girl was to be blonde, blue-eyed and college educated, preferably a Duquesne University student,” according to the lawsuit.
Beloncis claimed she was told she was not allowed to hire men. The lawsuit also states Adams told Beloncis to not hire a black woman who had applied. Beloncis’ attorney, Samuel J. Cordes, said his client hired the woman anyway and was later fired.
Adams referred comment to the business owners. The Milk Shake Factory is a retail store of Edward Marc Chocolatier.
Co-owner Chris Edwards, a Duquesne alum, blasted the allegations in the lawsuit, saying the claims were “very surprising,” and that the lawsuit will be successfully resolved.
“We are committed to diversity within our business,” Edwards said. “We’re committed to diversity within the community. We’re committed to hire the best workforce available regardless of age, race, gender, ethnicity, religious beliefs and/or sexual orientation.”
Edwards said the allegations feel like a “personal attack” on his family. Edwards, his brother and sister co-founded The Milk Shake Factory 10 years ago. The ice cream parlor, originally a chocolate shop, was founded in 1914 by Edwards’ great-grandparents.
“We know our Christian values and the values that we stand by, and we would never allow anything like this to happen,” Edwards said. “And we would never allow any sort of discrimination to occur because it’s the antithesis to who we are.”
Beloncis claimed she hired people she “felt were a good fit based on their employment history, references, and availability,” which resulted in her termination after three months of working at the store.
As a result of the firing, Beloncis said she suffered mental anguish, emotional strain, loss of income and benefits, humiliation and inconvenience. She is seeking reinstatement of her job, back wages and monetary damages.
Beloncis also is seeking a court order prohibiting the business from retaliating against her.
Duquesne spokeswoman Rose Ravasio said the University is “not involved in this lawsuit.”