HICKORY, N.C., Oct. 19, 2004 --, 2004 -- Misty Watts -- a widow, mother of three, waitress and student -- has been struggling to get ahead for years on her own. So when she was let go from her job because she didn't "fit" the part, she felt alone and lost.
"They didn't just hurt me. They really hurt my livelihood when they took my job, for no reason at all," Watts said.
Watts has spent the last two years waiting tables at Ruby Tuesday in Hickory, N.C. After her husband died, her salary helped raise her three kids as she went to college part time.
Watts says she felt as if she had been doing a good job, especially since she says she had been named employee of the month just days before she was let go by her district manager.
"What he said was, 'Misty, you know I have to call you in here because your shirt does not fit you correctly,'" Watts said. "'Your shirt will never fit you correctly. And you will never be able to buy that one that does.' And he proceeded to tell me I don't fit the image."
While the manager never said the word "overweight," Watts says she believes her termination was directly related to her weight.
"I'm convinced that I was terminated because I'm overweight," she said.
After Watts was terminated, one of her co-workers wrote a letter to the restaurant that Watts said touched her deeply. The letter said that Watts "did not deserve to lose the job that she lost. And Ruby Tuesdays doesn't deserve her. "
While employees can't be fired based on age, sex, race and religion, it's not against the law to terminate based on weight.
Legal scholar Lex Larson has written a dozen books on employment discrimination. He says employers are covered by the long-standing doctrine of Employment at Will, which states that employment is presumed to be voluntary and indefinite for both employees and employers.
"An employer can fire you for any reason -- for no reason at all -- or even for the wrong reason," Larson said.
Ruby Tuesday corporate officers deny Watts was fired for being overweight, but citing employee confidentiality, wouldn't say more about her.
In a written statement, the company said it does not terminate employees based on their weight.
"It is not Ruby Tuesday's policy to terminate people because of weight … It is our policy to set … high standards for performance and appearance." And: "We want our team members … to wear … shirts, blouses, and jeans that fit properly … our people are the point of direct contact with all our guests. That is why it is so important for us to have team members who look and perform their best …"
Meanwhile, Watts says she would like someone from Ruby Tuesday to tell her they're sorry.
"I would like an apology. Which I'm probably not going to get. But all I'd like is an apology to say 'hey, you know what, we fired you for an unethical reason. You know we fired you for just, just being you.' And you know I think that I deserve an apology for that," she said.