Business Monday: Suit: Chicken nuggets comment got Aspen chef fired
An Aspen chef is claiming he was fired over what he served up to a big crowd in Tennessee, but it didn’t come from his kitchen.
Instead, Francis Stuckens alleges his former employer Sage Dining Services terminated him when he questioned the validity of a company statement that its baked and fried chicken nuggets had identical nutritional value.
Stuckens worked for Sage when he was the food service director at Aspen Country Day School from Nov. 15, 2016, through Dec. 14, 2017, said his lawsuit, filed by attorney Hollie Wieland of the firm Sears & Associates PC in Colorado Springs.
An official with Sage Dining Services, a Maryland-based company that counts schools and colleges as its clients, said Friday the firm was not aware of Stuckens’ lawsuit. Sage continues to operate Aspen Country Day’s dining services, he said.
Stuckens has been a chef for years in Aspen, a fixture at a number of community events. He has catered marijuana-infused meals and has styled himself as a environmentally and health-conscious chef who uses locally sourced and organic ingredients.
But it was in December 2016, at a company conference in Nashville, that Stuckens’ comments got him in trouble with his employer, according to allegations in his lawsuit filed last week in Pitkin County District Court.
During a “freshman class seminar” at the conference, Stuckens stood up before a roomful of hundreds of attendees and “stated that the nutritional content for a baked chicken finger was not the same as for a fried chicken finger, addressing his query directly to Sage’s director of nutrition,” the suit said.
The director “inaccurately and forcefully denied” Stuckens’ allegations, which later led the company’s district manager to admonish him for not raising the question in private, the suit said.
In the meantime, Stuckens had complained to Sage upper management that it was falsely advertising on its website and on a poster at Aspen Country Day that it only used cage-free eggs that were specially certified, “when, in fact Mr. Stuckens was directed to purchase processed eggs,” the suit says, alleging he also was ordered to buy food that was “frozen processed,” “other big-box brands, factory farmed meats and nitrite- and preservative-laden deli cold cuts.”
Those type of purchases were at odds with the company’s advertising statements, and Stuckens began to question Sage management about its nutritional values and ethics, as well as the financial budget of the kitchen at the private K-8 school. Prior to then, the chef received good feedback from Sage, while parents and students were appreciative of his culinary skills, the suit said.
Yet on Dec. 14, Sage management fired Stuckens. The suit claims Sage, though it would not admit it, committed retaliation by firing Stuckens for calling out the company on alleged “misrepresentations regarding the nature and nutritional content of the food served by Sage (which) may constitute violations of the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990 and the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act,” the suit says.
The suit makes one claim — wrongful termination — and seeks a jury trial.
Stuckens did not respond to messages seeking comment.
Across the Roaring Fork School District, three schools achieved higher ratings from 2019 to 2022, two schools had lower ratings during that time period and most remained the same.