Here’s a cautionary tale about what can happen when a holiday party gets out of hand.
A former employee has filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against Taco Bell, alleging things got so bad after a wild holiday party that she was forced to quit.
Holiday party: A potluck event
Alana Bechiom worked as a cashier at a Taco Bell in California.
In December 2022, she was invited to a workplace Christmas party at the establishment. Her supervisor told her the party was a potluck-style buffet and alcohol would be served. Employees were encouraged to bring a dish, so Bechiom brought guacamole.
When Bechiom arrived, she noticed the windows were covered in wrapping paper and the surveillance cameras had also been covered. During the party, the supervisor provided alcohol and several co-workers were “overserved,” Bechiom later asserted.
As co-workers continued to drink, Bechiom said she went outside to get some air and socialize. When she went back into the restaurant, she said she was “shocked, disgusted and outraged” when she saw a male co-worker openly having sex with his wife, as she simultaneously kissed the supervisor and a female co-worker.
At that point, Bechiom walked back outside. After a while, she said she went back inside to retrieve her guacamole bowl so she could leave. There, the supervisor was vomiting in a trash can, and the female worker was vomiting in Bechiom’s guacamole bowl, Bechiom alleged.
Two days later, Bechiom reported what happened at the holiday party to HR. The next day, the employer investigated and terminated the supervisor, the male co-worker and the female co-worker.
From bad to worse …
The following day, co-workers allegedly began to retaliate against Bechiom. For example, she alleges:
- Someone smashed the back left window of her car in the middle of the night, and
- Multiple co-workers sent text messages containing explicitly violent threats.
Bechiom reported the car vandalism and the text threats to the local police. She also reported the text threats to HR.
According to Bechiom, the company did not discipline the employees who sent the threatening messages. Instead, the company told Bechiom that it was going to transfer her to a new location.
Two days later, Bechiom notified the company that she “felt so overcome with significant stress, physical and mental illness and anxiety from the hostile work environment that she had no other choice” but to resign. She said her separation from the company was a constructive discharge.
Suit seeks damages, medical costs and attorneys’ fees
Bechiom filed a lawsuit alleging wrongful termination and hostile work environment in violation of the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). She also alleged retaliation for asserting her rights under FEHA.
The complaint asserts Bechiom suffered “actual, consequential and incidental financial losses, including loss of salary” and also suffered mental stress, embarrassment, humiliation and aggravation. The suit seeks general, special, punitive and liquidated damages as well as medical expenses and attorneys’ fees.
Lawsuits over holiday parties
Of course, this isn’t the first time an employer has faced a lawsuit over a holiday party. For example:
- In California, a hotel bartender attended his company’s holiday party. He left to drive a drunk co-worker home. On the way, he struck another vehicle and killed the driver. The deceased driver’s parents sued the bartender and his employer for wrongful death.
- In New York, an employee died after drinking too much at his workplace’s holiday party. He passed out at the party, so co-workers moved him into a hallway and called his wife to pick him up. They suggested she take him home to let him “sleep it off.” He died from “alcohol intoxication and positional asphyxia.” His estate sued the company.
- In Tennessee, two employees were fired after they hosted a Christmas party during the pandemic. They sued, alleging religious discrimination.
- In Washington, an employee left a company Christmas party. On the way home, he hit an individual on a motorcycle. The motorcyclist died, and his estate sued the employer.
Admittedly, many of these are worst-case scenarios. In many instances, companies merely have to endure cringy stories from holidays past.
Bechiom v. Taco Bell Corp., No. 23STCV27981 (Cal. Super. Ct. filed 11/15/23).