For UT alumna Ashley Hawkins, the title of general manager at I Love Juice Bar is one of the past, after she quit following a meeting held by the new owners of the Turkey Creek location a few weeks ago.
Hawkins shared stories from the meeting on social media Monday, writing that “insinuative t-shirts” were given to each employee. The t-shirts, which display the bottom half of a woman’s figure and the words “squeeze me please” were described as “incredibly offensive” and “absolutely disgusting.”
According to Hawkins, new owner Hein Pham suggested the women could use their “bodies for more tips and ultimately to get him more money.” In addition to the presentation of new uniforms, the owner also announced a new district manager. The newly-promoted district manager, Hawkins said, had been “reported by customers and employees alike as a pervert, a flirt, and overall very unprofessional man.”
Pham’s wife and co-owner Christina Nguyen denied the allegations in a post on Nguyen’s Facebook page. In the post, Nguyen said the business only had one uniform: “the black apron with Juice Bar logo in front.”
“The T-shirt picture that is being circulated was a donated promotional item that was misprinted and never approved,” Nguyen continued. “No employees had or has ever worn it. In fact, if you ask all our current employees, they have never seen it.”
After clearing what she saw as confusion, Nguyen said Juice Bar has female ownership and management, adding that the sexual misconduct accusations didn’t occur until the entire staff was fired on May 27, after she took over the location. Nguyen said the firings were due to “minority business owner discrimination” and a lack of cooperation.
Nguyen was not available for additional comment.
Although claiming to have fired the staff, Hawkins claims that her entire staff resigned following the meeting with new ownership. Co-worker Caroline Bolen shared her own experiences in a post on Instagram, saying that they reach out to corporate, but “they have decided to do absolutely nothing about it.”
“In fact,” Bolen added, “their response was a perfect example of why people can still get away with this without consequence.”
Bolen continued in her post to ask Juice Bar why the t-shirt should represent the company, adding that it is not a gender issue, but a societal and entitlement issue.
“I refuse to work for a company that promotes sexism and disrespect among fellow employees,” Bolen said. “Everyone, no matter gender, deserves to feel comfortable in their workplace.”
Bolen encouraged anyone in a similar situation to speak up.
“Please stand up for yourself, even if it's scary, even if the response is discouraging. Please don't be quiet,” Bolen said. “I stand with my brave manager Ashley, I stand with my co-workers who have turned into my family, and I stand for myself.”
Bolen denied to comment further than her Instagram post, saying it voices all she needed to say.
UT alumna Loraine Ilia shared Hawkin’s post with over 7,000 female current and graduated UT students through the “UTK Girls Buy Sell Trade” Facebook page. Ilia emphasized the importance of awareness and protection, urging UT women to avoid working at Juice Bar and supporting the business.
“When Ashley first told me the story, I was really angry and sad something like this had happened,” Ilia told the Daily Beacon. “She’s my friend and I actually worked with her at the Juice Bar a few years ago, and had a great time working under her, knowing how much she tried to make it a safe space for everyone, especially her employees.”
Ilia went on to say that she felt women are too familiar with the type of incident.
“This isn’t the first nor will it be the last time we hear about sexual harassment in the workplace,” Ilia said. “I want women (and men who have experienced this) to feel like they should be able to freely talk about this problem without being harshly questioned especially when the topic is such a vulnerable one.”
For Hawkins, what Bolen and Ilia suggested rings true for her too, as she continues to bring awareness using the hashtag “#metoo.”
“I wish to come forward today just to say this is not ok! Corporations must stop turning a blind eye to those who have the courage to speak up,” Hawkins said. “We are not liars. We are not being dramatic. We are men and women who just want the right to come into our place of work and not worry if we will be violated that day.”
Hawkins was not available for further comment.