Charla Aldous: Judge's order allows Hillstone Restaurant Group employee to wear face mask to work
The company has not responded to questions about workers’ allegations that they were prohibited from protecting themselves from COVID-19.
The Dallas Morning News, By Evan Grant 11:45 AM on May 7, 2020
A judge granted a temporary restraining order Thursday allowing a Hillstone Restaurant Group employee the right to return to work while wearing a mask as protection from possible communal spread of COVID-19.
Hillstone — which operates Hillstone, Houston’s, R&D Kitchen and Honor Bar in Dallas County — has told workers they can’t wear masks, two employees of the Hillstone location in University Park told The Dallas Morning News this week.
Initially, attorneys representing the employee had wanted Hillstone to lift its prohibition on masks for all employees and to supply the masks. When Hillstone tried to move the case to a federal court, the employee amended her petition to apply only to her.
State District Judge Tonya Parker granted the order to the employee, who was identified as “Jane Doe” in court documents.
“Our initial application was to protect both our client and other employees and, in fact, require Hillstone to supply them and make them mandatory,” said Dallas attorney Charla Aldous, who represents Jane Doe. "Given that a removal to federal court was imminent, we felt compelled to move quickly and ask protection for our client to return to work and be safe. Our hope is that Hillstone will now follow the law and have all employees wear face covering while at work in order to protect themselves, their families and the public.”
The employee claimed she had been denied four shifts totaling about 40 hours of work. The judge’s injunction allows her to return to normal work hours while wearing a mask for the next two weeks.
“She wants to work,” Aldous said. “She needs to work to earn a living. But she feels like without a face covering she is endangering herself, her family, her co-workers and the public. She wants to obey the law. There is an order for her to wear a face covering while at work, and her employer is not letting her comply with that law.”
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins amended his safer-at-home orders Monday to require restaurant and food preparation and processing employees to wear masks.
Hillstone’s corporate offices have not responded to requests for comment and did not answer a message sent through its corporate Instagram account. Employees at Hillstone and R&D Kitchen referred to the company’s website in response to inquiries.
Early in the week, the website said masks were not required for customers or staff members. But since news broke of the employees’ allegations, the company has updated the site, removing all contact information for the company’s headquarters and rewording much of the guidance for customers.
The company added that employees undergo a “detailed health screening” before each shift and that its staff is “well-informed and understands the importance of frequent proper hand washing and personal hygiene.”
Employees are using a “peroxide-based hand sanitizer that is immediately effective at eliminating viruses,” the website says.
“While masks are not required to [be] worn by guests or staff members, our staff is aware of the need to provide space,” Hillstone’s message says. “If you are concerned about your well-being with respect to masks not being worn by staff or by other guests, we hope you will join us at a later date.”
Five Hillstone dining rooms in Texas were the only restaurants among the national chain’s 45 locations to reopen.
Concerns about using masks in public spaces has become a flash point as Texas begins to reopen businesses statewide.
On Tuesday, Dennis Bonnen, the outgoing speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, scolded big-box retailers, including Home Depot and Lowe’s, for the lack of protective equipment for their employees and customers.
Bonnen said Wednesday that he was “flabbergasted” about the situation at Hillstone.
“Nothing was mandated because we expect businesses to make their best efforts to make this work,” he said. “And they are not. They are doing the absolute minimum. It’s offensive to our governor and other leaders. It’s not mandated that you can’t do something stupid, but that doesn’t mean you should do something stupid. There is a common decency that is lacking in this.”