A couple weeks ago I received an email from a reader of the DSR. The story she told was disturbing. 12 years ago to the day, she had been the subject of sexual harassment by her boss.
At the time, she was a 19-year-old woman working at the Red Robin Gourmet Burgers restaurant in Detroit. Her supervisor — whom she believed to be approximately five or six years older than her — had been hitting on her for awhile via AOL Instant Messenger.
(I have granted the victim of this harassment anonymity per her request.)
The waitress had previously heard whispers of her manager discussing inappropriate subject matter with other female members of the staff but nothing like what she received on Christmas Eve 2005.
On December 23. 2005, the DSR reader was asked by her superior for her email address. According to her, she didn’t know why her boss wanted that information but she provided it to him.
At 2:20am the next day, the victim received an email from her boss with no subject header. The only thing the electronic message stated was “Not sure panties work….”
But the email also included a picture: a photograph of her boss holding his engorged penis while wearing a white t-shirt. How do I know this? Because as evidence for this article, the victim forwarded me that email.
Fortunately for you, I won’t be posting that image.
This wasn’t the only odd experience the waitress had with her supervisor. A female relative of hers had also interviewed for a position with this manager at that same Red Robin location and, subsequent to that meeting, told the DSR reader that he had hit on her throughout the process.
The waitress had tried to block out this experience for years but when all of the stories about men behaving badly in the workplace started coming out, her memory of this awful behavior came rushing back.
She had lost any connection to this person after she quit working at the Red Robin, although she had heard rumors that the manager’s behavior had continued and that he was eventually dismissed from his position a couple of years later.
(A call was made ten days ago to the corporate offices of Red Robin for confirmation of that allegation. I left a message asking for their comment related to these accuasations. They never returned my voice-mail message.)
But because of the Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, and Louis CK stories, the victim became curious about what her harasser was currently up to.
After a quick Google search she was surprised to learn that her former boss had left the food service business and was now a sports writer — mainly covering Ohio State recruiting for the past few years.
In fact, just recently, the man she accuses of sexual harassment at the workplace was hired by The Athletic Detroit to be their Midwest Director of Recruiting.
His name is Jeremy Birmingham.
The DSR did receive independent confirmation that Birmingham was dismissed by Red Robin in 2006 after a complaint by another co-worker was lodged against him for sexual harassment.
I provided Birmingham an opportunity to respond to this story and received the following response via Twitter Direct Message:
“I[f] there a reason you’re deciding to do this? I made a lot of poor decisions as a 26-year-old single restaurant manager, a few that that I’m not proud of, but I guess I’m asking why is this being written? Just to try and ruin my life?
I met my ex-wife at Red Robin. She worked there when we met. I started there as a 24-year old server/bartender and was promoted to management within a few months. A lot of the people I worked with initially became my close friends and eventually, subordinates at the restaurant. I was young, dumb, single and the restaurant lifestyle was very relaxed and laid back with a lot of relationships among staff members.
I worked at three different locations, Toledo, Ypsilanti and Detroit, and for the most part, dated girls that I worked with – who worked for me, I guess though I was a staff manager and never like, the general manager, anything like that.
When I got transferred back to the Toledo location in the summer of 2006, I hit on a girl that I worked with, who I had known for 3-4 years, I complimented her body, I shouldn’t have, she reported me, and I was terminated for it. It was embarrassing and a poor decision. Again, the social structure of the restaurant was pretty loosey-goosey, and I overstepped the line in what I thought was a friendly/joking relationship.
Like I said, I was a single 26-year old guy who grew up with these people in the restaurant, they were my friends and the people I spent 55+ hours a week with. It was a dumb mistake.“
In response to the question of sending the explicit photo to the subject of this report:
“I don’t specifically recall that happening, but I know that I was young and dumb and had a number of different text relationships that involved flirting with team members, we were all the same age, hanging out in the same groups of people, etc. I don’t recall ever sending anything like that to someone unsolicited, or that I didn’t have a relationship with.
If someone says I did, I can’t really prove I didn’t, I guess, being so long ago. Bottom line is that I was a dumb guy and the restaurant at the time was full of bad decisions by all kinds of people. The first day I worked there, during my training, my trainer made overtures toward me and we had a relationship during her time at the restaurant. Doesn’t excuse my poor judgment, but it was kind of the “way” the place was, I guess.“
To be clear: it did happen because I have documentation that it occurred.
Regarding the “ruin your life” statement. Nobody is attempting to do that. A woman came to me with a story. The Detroit sports media is the beat that I cover. I am no more trying to ruin someone’s life than the New York Times was out for vengeance against Matt Lauer.
Or any more than the Washington Post was trying to destroy Roy Moore’s life.
It’s a story. I’ve told it on the behalf of someone who believes she was victimized. And neither that woman nor I take any position on what The Athletic Detroit should do about these revelations.
(A previous version of this article stated the email was received on December 24, 2004. The email was received on December 24, 2005. You can follow Moss on Twitter @JeffMossDSR. You can discuss this article on Facebook by clicking here.)