Pretzel shop manager claims employee fired for being deaf

Kami Watkins Tucker and sister Keri Watkins at the Auntie Anne's restaurant in Dickson, Tennessee before both were fired in an alleged dispute over Keri being deaf. (WZTV)

DICKSON, Tenn. (WZTV) - A manager at the Auntie Anne's pretzel restaurant in Dickson says her sister was fired for being deaf and she was fired for sticking up for her.

Kami Watkins Tucker took to social media on Monday to vent her frustrations after new ownership met with employees on Saturday and informed them of they would be taking over on August 10th. Tucker -who has been a manager at the store since it opened in 2014- says it was supposed to be a "get to know the crew" meeting but turned out much differently.

Tucker says she hired her sister Keri Watkins in November of 2014. Despite being 100% deaf, Keri has never had issues with guests says Tucker. "Guests will point fingers at what they want and there was a menu for Keri to use. It worked. We have hundreds of guests and they have praised the fact we had a deaf employee," Tucker told FOX Nashville.

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, "An employer is only required to accommodate a "known" disability of a qualified applicant or employee. The requirement generally will be triggered by a request from an individual with a disability, who frequently will be able to suggest an appropriate accommodation."

After working at the location inside the Dickson Walmart for a year and nine months, Keri was fired. Tucker says the new owners told her to inform her sister when new ownership became official on August 10th, she would no longer be working there because she was deaf and incapable of helping customers. "I told them if they wanted her fired, they would have to do it themselves. She's my employee and my sister," Tucker says.

On Monday, Tucker says she was informed she was being let go. "I was fired last night," Tucker says. "They told me it was because I was a bad manager. I recorded the whole conversation."

Kami called corporate and says she was told it was an issue between her and the managers. FOX Nashville reached out to the corporate office and received a statement from Shas Kurtz, Public Relations Manager for Auntie Anne's, Kurtz writes "This Auntie Anne's is an independently owned location and we expect our franchisees to comply with all laws and regulations. As a national franchisor, we take all complaints seriously and are committed to working with the appropriate parties to bring this to a conclusion."

As for Keri, her sister says she has been hurt by the firing. "She's hurt, she's upset. We've grown up with a lot of bullying because she is deaf. I've gotten in tons of fights through the years sticking up for my sister, but it's been a long time since we've had to deal with any of this. She's taking it very hard, we're out eating and she wants to be home by herself," Kami says.

However, the community and employees have shared their support for Keri. Kami says an employee "opener" who was supposed to open the store today decided to leave and did not open the store. Other employees have told her they don't plan on showing up. Kami's Facebook post venting her frustrations has also generated 690 shares in just 21 hours. "The response has been overwhelming. Dickson is a close community. They will make their voices heard," Kami says.

Kami also says she's been contacted by lawyers, friends, and others in the community, all sharing her same sentiment;"It's not that it's just illegal, it's morally wrong."

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