Lawsuit From Former Downstein Manager Reveals Aramark Misled Public About Insensitive Black History Month Meal

Sayer Devlin Alex DombKristina Hayhurst Jemima McEvoy
Downstein Passport Dining, where the "Black History Month" meal was served.

The Black History Month meal served in Weinstein Passport Dining Hall on Feb. 20 that resulted in the firing of two employees of NYU’s food service provider Aramark was orchestrated and led by Aramark, according to evidence obtained from the lawyer of Tim Hoben, one of the terminated employees suing NYU and Aramark for $5 million.

Hoben was fired two days after the meal, which featured watermelon-flavored water, red Kool-Aid, ribs and other items that played into racist stereotypes.

A statement from Aramark released on Feb. 21 said that Hoben had acted independently in creating the menu, but emails from Aramark’s Senior District Marketing Manager Vincent Gentile to campus Aramark employees and dining hall managers show that NYU approved the event and Aramark vetted menus in advance, asking employees to recommend items for the menu with approval from the marketing department.

“Please send me a menu, and information about the employee(s) who suggested these items, by [close of business] on Friday,” a Feb. 14 email from Gentile reads. “My apologies for the quick turnaround but I just got approval from the client to run this event as is.”

Statements from Aramark and President Andrew Hamilton saying that the meal was orchestrated by an individual employee were widely circulated in national media outlets. Evidence shows that Aramark officials also misled NYU administrators, including Chief Diversity Officer Lisa Coleman, stating termination was based on Hoben’s arbitrary decision-making.

“We are extremely disappointed by the insensitive and offensive actions taken by one of our employees who did not follow policy and processes,” Aramark’s February statement from Regional Vice President Victoria Pasquale read. “The individual acted independently in a way that runs counter to our values and compromised our longstanding commitment to diversity and inclusion.”

The statement was nearly identical to one released by Loyola Dining Services, also contracted with Aramark, after a dining hall served Kool-Aid and fried chicken in honor of Black History Month.

Additionally, menus created by NYU Dining detailed plans for multiple Black History Month meals around campus, and included profiles of each employee that created the menu. In the menu plan for Weinstein Passport Dining, three employees were credited, none of which were Hoben.

A sample menu from Downstein Passport Dining Hall to be prepared for Black History Month

Vice President of Communications for Aramark Karen Cutler  said that there is no validity to the claims laid out in the lawsuit.

“We strongly reject this baseless claim and will vigorously defend ourselves,” Cutler said in an email to WSN. “We have zero tolerance for any employee who does not adhere to our values or contradicts our longstanding commitment to diversity and inclusion.”

Email Sayer Devlin, Alex Domb, Jemima McEvoy and Kristina Hayhurst at [email protected]

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