Popular H Street cocktail bar Copycat Co. has fired a bartender accused of spewing racial comments and sexist slurs to a customer over the weekend, as Washingtonian first reported. Owner Devin Gong tells Eater he fired 5-year employee Rob Tinney on Thursday, September 19.
The termination stemmed from a late-night altercation at the bar on Saturday, in which Tinney allegedly “aggressively” approached customer Jazmyne Wade with profane language, according to a witness’s account. Both parties are black.
Witness Pierrea Naketa went to Medium to spell out the series of events that occurred around 2:45 a.m., prompting a cry to boycott the late-night drinking establishment on Yelp. Naketa is a recent law school grad, notes Washingtonian.
According to her documented account, Naketa writes that Tinney allegedly said, “Bitch, you gotta go!” As the situation escalated, he allegedly added: “You black and you ugly bitch! You black as f*** and you ugly!” Wade and her companion, who had been eating and drinking there for a while, subsequently left the bar. Naketa’s post accuses Tinney of colorism, discrimination that favors lighter skin over darker skin within the same racial or ethnic group.
Tinney has since disputed pieces of that story, saying in a statement that he never used the word “bitch” and that he was acting defensively because of previous hostile behavior from Wade.
“It’s true, I was angry and defensive and should not have used those words in that way,” Tinney writes. “But Jazmyne is black like me and was being extremely ugly to me.”
While Gong initially stood by Tinney, he expressed remorse to Eater. ”It’s very upsetting,” Gong says. “It’s definitely not acceptable to say that in any circumstances ... As a company, that’s not what we’re about. I won’t tolerate it.”
Gong apologized for the incident on behalf of himself and his staff, the majority of whom he says are immigrants and minorities, he tells Washingtonian.
Gong tells Eater he was downstairs when this all occurred, so he didn’t hear the altercation between Tinney and Wade. He does clarify that Copycat previously banned Wade — at one time a Copycat “regular” — because Gong says a friend of hers slapped Tinney in the face a few months back when the bartender tried to cut the group off because the customers were too drunk. Tinney says during the altercation, members of Wade’s party repeatedly called him a “bitch-ass [n-word].”
Gong says Tinney got the cops involved, but elected not to press charges, instead telling them to tell Wade and her friends they couldn’t come to the bar anymore. Gong says Wade managed to enter Copycat on Saturday and sit in front of a new bartender who didn’t recognize her. The incident occurred after last call when the lights went on and Tinney noticed Wade. Gong says that when he talked to Naketa, he didn’t know exactly what was going on and he felt protective of an employee who had previously been attacked.
”I don’t care if other people are wrong,” Gong says. “We need to amend our wrongdoing, which is the way that we handled it. We addressed the problem with Rob by letting him go.”
Gong says his staff has been “pretty angry about the whole thing,” adding “my goal was to make sure that my staff knows this is not a time to fight. This is the time to amend.”
As for Wade, she’s still banned from the establishment, he says. “However, I’m open to talking to her,” says Gong. “I would like to talk to her because I’d like to get to the root of the problem.”
In an article published after the original version of this post, Wade told DCist that none of her friends ever assaulted a Copycat employee, and that the original altercation referenced by Tinney began because he made homophobic comments to her co-worker, allegedly telling the gay woman that, “If you want to be a man, I’ll treat you like a man.”
Wade told DCist what happened to her at Copycat was unacceptable.
“I shouldn’t have had to go through this,” Wade told the outlet. “Any black woman shouldn’t have had to experience or hear that.”
Tinney’s statement asks if Naketa and Wade conspired to get him fired and paints himself as the fall guy for Gong:
“I can understand why Devin Gong, a man I worked with for more than five years and with whom I built Copycat from nail and board, felt he needed to throw me under the bus,” Tinney writes. “His first thought in this PR maelstrom was to protect the bar at all costs. But the cost to me was my job and for now, and my reputation. But I hope that readers to my reply will be more understanding. I am a black man, raised by black women whom I love respect. I have survived nearly being killed by street violence and I have worked honestly and consistently with integrity.
“For all my bartender and bar owner friends and colleagues, please know this: We are often asked to do a politically correct job in a politically incorrect environment. When customers become unruly, drunk and disorderly—and sometimes violent and dangerous--things can get out of hand. But we bartenders do our best to protect the bar and the business. Sometimes we don’t handle the drama in the smoothest way, but I would challenge anyone to do this kind of work under these circumstances without inviting second-hand criticism. In my case, this criticism and the reporting of what allegedly happened, has so far been extremely unfair.”
Friday, September 20, 1:55 p.m.: This article has been updated from the original version published Thursday, September 19, to include Wade’s account and add “Colorist” into the headline
Wednesday, September 25, 1:20 p.m.: This article has been updated to include Tinney’s statement.