MANHATTAN (CN) – It’s a bizarre tale of bias, bogus currency and tacos in the Big Apple.
In a federal complaint, ex-Taco Bell cashier Janell Arnett alleges that she taped her bosses at two Harlem franchises using “fear, intimidation and manipulation” to make her hand out fake $20 bills to “unsuspecting customers.”
They did not force white employees into this criminal conspiracy, she claims.
The allegedly wayward Taco Bells operated on the corners of 97th Street and Lexington Avenue and 104th Street and Third Avenue.
In these locations, owners Hemang Champaneria and Kaanan Champaneria shelved the managers’ “no large bills” policy and made the restaurants “two of the very few quick-service franchise restaurants in Harlem that accepted large bills,” the 30-page complaint states.
Her managers Fatau Bakaba and Depindra Rawal were also in on the scheme, Arnett alleges.
“Getting the Hispanic cashiers to actually distribute the counterfeit bills was harder,” according to the complaint. “The defendants initially lied, pulling each aside and privately informing the cashier that he/she received two counterfeit $20 bills from customers during the course of their previous shift. The Hispanic employee was then given two options, pay the restaurant $40 out of the cashier’s own pocket, or give the fake notes to unsuspecting customers as change.
“This step allowed the defendants to identify which Hispanic cashiers could be manipulated into distributing the counterfeit notes. If the Hispanic cashier complained or refused, as Arnett did, defendants then threatened the employee with summary termination and/or arrest if she did not continue,” the complaint continues.
Described as a “quiet and unassuming girl,” Arnett had been an impressionable 17-year-old when she was “ensnared by the defendants’ web” on July 14, 2014, according to the complaint.
“Arnett works to help support her family and getting fired, for any reason, was not an option,” the lawsuit states.
After she started refusing, Arnett claims her bosses tried to trick her into quitting at an “August ambush.”
“At that meeting, the defendants intimidated Arnett into believing there were undercover officers in the restaurant, who were standing ready to arrest her unless she signed a voluntary resignation,” the complaint states. “The terrified minor, surrounded by four adults, pleaded to call her mother, which defendants refused, and continued to stand over her telling her she stole money and was about to be arrested. … Arnett signed the voluntary resignation and ran to the nearest police precinct still in fear she was about to be arrested.”
Collecting an “overwhelming amount of evidence, Arnett recorded that “part of the traumatizing termination meeting,” kept one of the counterfeit $20 bills, and texted a contemporaneous account of her treatment to her mother, her lawyers say.
The complaint includes what is said to be photograph of the hot currency.
Though it is a “poor counterfeit” it would “easily be accepted as authentic” by a customer, the lawsuit says.
“When received by a business, it would not pass even a low level of scrutiny,” the complaint continues. “The defendants’ bill is demonstrably smaller than an authentic bill.”
Arnett will need years of therapy to recover, her lawyers say.
“Defendants took this minor into their care but instead of proving a safe place to work, they tortured her until she was so vulnerable she was willing to participate in their disgusting and illegal plan,” the complaint states.
Arnett seeks emotional punitive damages for nine counts of labor violations, discrimination claims, fraud and other charges.
She is represented by Richard Garbarini of Garbarini Fitzgerald P.C.
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