The owners of Stockman’s Restaurant have filed a lawsuit against six people after they made Facebook comments accusing the restaurant’s management of turning a blind eye to sexual assault.
The complaint says the allegations that management ignored a sexual assault involving employees on the restaurant’s premises are false, and that they have suffered a loss of business because of the Facebook posts. It alleges the defendants defamed the business and committed tortious interference, intentionally interfering with the business.
Carrie Royce, who uses the Facebook moniker “Bear Lynne,” made a public post on her personal Facebook page on Feb. 21. Royce’s post said her post was in followup to one her daughter wrote a day earlier about her ordeal. In the post, Royce said her daughter, who worked as a hostess at the restaurant until December, was raped and repeatedly sexually assaulted by a manager at the restaurant, and that the owners punished her by removing her from the work schedule.
Royce wrote that she and her husband were willing to put themselves “completely on the line for our daughter, whom we know to be a good person with a huge empathetic heart.”
Royce’s post continued, “She has her whole life ahead of her, so many beautiful choices to make and paths to take that do not involve a hostess job at a small town restaurant. She needs to know she is above and beyond a bunch of disgusting narrow-minded bullies — that an inane nickname tossed around by waiters and managers is not worth her energy.”
The post was shared more than 400 times and received more than 200 comments.
In the post Royce also wrote “... I’d ask that you never again spend money at Stockman’s, and spread the word that the owners exemplify why #MeToo is a thing (do not care about possible victims of sexual violence on their property as well as protect the accused above the victim). ...”
Stockman’s Facebook page received multiple negative reviews over the next several days from people saying they would not support a restaurant that ignored sex abuse.
The complaint states the owners were told of an incident but did not know it was a sexual assault until they saw Royce’s post.
Attorney DeAnne Casperson, who is representing the owners, said the plaintiffs are not taking a stance on whether the sexual assault happened, only that the owners were not made aware that it was a sexual assault as alleged by Royce. Casperson refused to say whether the accused employee was still working at the restaurant, saying he had received threats.
The incident was reported to the Idaho Falls Police Department. Spokeswoman Jessica Clements would not confirm or deny if an investigation was ongoing.
Daniel Royce, Carrie’s husband, was also named as a defendant. Daniel Royce, an attorney, said he would represent himself and his wife at least for the initial response to the lawsuit. Daniel Royce had not made a public statement about the alleged assault, but was named by his wife in her Facebook post.
Four other defendants were named for their Facebook comments: Makendra Hess, Jill Cameron, Monica Rankin and Emily Hart Randall. Randall shared Carrie Royce’s post on her personal Facebook page, while Hess and Rankin shared it on the Stockman’s Restaurant page. Cameron and Rankin wrote negative reviews of the restaurant.
Cameron said she was unaware of the lawsuit until a Post Register reporter asked her about it. Cameron said her statements were protected as free speech.
“The only thing I did was share the story of the alleged victim,” Cameron said.
Hess said she was also just sharing what she found on Facebook.
“Those comments I made were simply prompting people to read ‘Bear Lynne’s’ post and to make their own decision about doing business at that establishment,” Hess said.
Cameron and Hess both included the hashtag #boycottstockmans in Facebook comments on the restaurant’s page.
In the complaint, Stockman’s owners said the comments led to a loss of business as well as harassment of the accused by supporters of the reported victim, and that owners Chris Bird and Trevor Noles were personally affected by the allegation.
“Stockman’s owners have suffered emotional distress, including lack of sleep, anxiety, weight loss, and other symptoms as a result of the false and defamatory allegations.”
Casperson sent a statement via email to the Post Register on behalf of her clients.
“The owners of Stockman’s strongly oppose any acts of sexual abuse and support all victims to pursue legal remedies. Stockman’s did not, and would not, ignore an employee’s report of sexual abuse or harassment in the workplace,” Casperson wrote.
“By the same token, Stockman’s takes very seriously unfounded attacks on its integrity and the integrity of its owners, particularly those launched through social media. We urge the public to form opinions based on established facts rather than unfounded rumors.”
Carrie and Daniel Royce disputed several facts listed in the complaint. The complaint says their daughter was having a consensual sexual relationship with the accused employee while dating another employee. The daughter told the Post Register that she had dated the accused employee, but was only friends with him at the time the alleged assault occurred.
According to the complaint, the accused employee denied sexually or physically assaulting the Royces’ daughter and accused her of making unwanted physical contact. Both the complaint and the alleged victim said the restaurant’s management told the two to stay away from each other. The complaint states they were placed on different shifts.
Carrie Royce said she is standing by her comments. She cited her own experience being sexually assaulted at a young age.
“I backed down in the face of lawyers when I was younger and in her shoes. I’ve regretted it since,” Carrie Royce said.
The lawsuit seeks a jury trial and an award of damages, “including special and general damages, in an amount to be determined at trial.” It also seeks an award of attorneys fees.