Judge dismisses Bourbon Group’s defamation lawsuit against former employees

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SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – A defamation lawsuit from the Bourbon Group against two former employees, Kevin Mulligan and Kayleigh Wood, was dismissed by a judge Monday.

The original complaint stated the defendants made false allegations about racism and a hostile work environment that cost the bar ownership group approximately $300,000 in lost revenue.

The Bourbon Group first made headlines in July when Brandi LeCates, the wife of one of the owners, made racially-charged comments on social media. Her comment stated, “Black lives don’t matter any more than anyone else!!!! Always the same (expletives)! Bunch of (expletive)! I’m astounded by anyone that condones any of the violence and vandalism these imbeciles are carrying out!”

The outcry led several former employees, including Kevin Mulligan and Kayleigh Wood, to speak out online about concerning events they said they experienced or witnessed during their employment. The company owns three local bars and restaurants in downtown Salt Lake City – Whiskey Street, Bourbon House, and White Horse.

Bourbon Group eventually issued a public apology for Brandi LeCates’ comments and pledged $10,000 to Black Lives Matter.

“The comments that were made are more than disrespectful. They are insulting and ignorant of black lives, history, and the continual movement to fight for equal rights and treatment […] We promise that we will work harder to support our community and the nationwide movement,” wrote the owners in a post on Whiskey Street’s FaceBook page on July 12th.

RELATED: Owners of Whiskey Street apologize for family member’s racially-charged comments, pledge $10,000 to Black Lives Matter

But the controversy didn’t end there. In early August, the Bourbon Group filed a defamation lawsuit against Mulligan and Wood. The complaint also stated there could be up to 10 more defendants if they can be identified. Several other former employees, who requested to remain anonymous, confirmed to ABC4 News that they had received cease and desist letters from the ownership group.

The lawsuit claims that Mulligan and Woods’ actions damaged the Bourbon Group’s businesses’ reputations and goodwill, led to staff quitting, and caused emotional distress to the plaintiffs.

In an exclusive interview with ABC4 News back in September, the defendants denied the allegations made in the complaint. Their attorney, Whitney Hulet Krogue, filed a motion to dismiss three weeks after, arguing that in the document that the lawsuit is “nothing more than an effort to silence unflattering (though perhaps well-deserved) criticism.”

RELATED: Local bartenders fight back on defamation lawsuit from Bourbon Group after speaking out about alleged toxic work environment

On Monday, a judge dismissed the Bourbon Group’s defamation lawsuit. Mulligan and Wood issued this statement following the decision that said in part:

We truly appreciate the tremendous amount of support we have received from friends, family, and other members of our community. With what is going on in this country today, we believe people need to continue to speak out about any injustices they see or experience themselves–whether they are happening in public or in the workplace. We feel that Bourbon Group’s legal action was nothing but an attempt to silence not just us, but other current or former employees who want to speak out about their experiences.  We are happy they did not succeed.

This is a big win for us and the free speech rights of working class Americans. We hope it will instill the confidence for other people to stand up for themselves and the people around them when they feel they are being mistreated in the workplace. In the future, we hope to see positive changes in the service industry–and every aspect of society–regarding racism and sexual harassment. In the end, we are happy we are able to move on from this and just want to again thank everyone that has helped us get to where we are at today.”

Kevin Mulligan and Kayleigh Wood

In an e-mail to ABC4 News, the plaintiff’s attorney, Joseph Orifici wrote, “I respectfully disagree with Judge Skanchy’s decision. No determination has been made yet about an appeal. Other than that, no comment.”

Rosie_Nguyen
Rosie Nguyen is an award-winning journalist who joined the ABC4 News team as a reporter in January 2018. In September 2020, she embarked on a new journey as the anchor for the CW30 News at 7 p.m. Although she’s not out in the field anymore, she is continuing her passion for social justice and community issues through the nightly “In Focus” discussions.
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