Salt Lake City bar owners sue former employees for defamation and fraud

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) An employee restocks the bar at White Horse Spirits and Kitchen in 2017.

The wife of a Salt Lake City bar owner launched a social media explosion last month when she posted a racially charged comment about the Black Lives Matter movement.

Brandi LeCates later removed the post and apologized, saying her comment that “Black lives don’t matter more than anyone else’s” was taken out of context and that the three Salt Lake City bars her husband co-owns were being unnecessarily targeted.

Jason LeCates and the other owners of the Bourbon House Group — which operate Whiskey Street Bar and Grill, Bourbon House and White Horse Spirits & Kitchen — also apologized on Facebook, saying the comments were “disrespectful,” “insulting” and “ignorant of Black lives, history and the continual movement to fight for equal rights and treatment.”

While none of the Bourbon House owners made the controversial statements, the company said because of its close “association” with Brandi LeCates, it would donate $10,000 to the Black Lives Matter movement.

That didn’t stop the social media outrage.

It quickly devolved as former employees began posting allegations of sexual harassment and mistreatment by the members of the Bourbon House management.

This week, the story has taken another turn, as LeCates and the Bourbon House Group are suing two former employees for defamation and fraud and have left the door open to name other defendants.

According to the complaint, filed in 3rd District Court, former manager Kevin Mulligan and his girlfriend and former bartender, Kayleigh Wood (Little), posted false statements on Facebook that have resulted in more than $300,000 in lost revenue.

Mulligan and Wood “knew or should have known,” the lawsuit says, “that claims of racism and threats of exposing a hostile work environment during a time of civil unrest would negatively impact the ability of White Horse, Bourbon House and Whiskey Street to do business and would result in a loss of customers and revenue.”

Mulligan and Wood told The Salt Lake Tribune they were waiting until they had talked to an attorney before commenting.

They may soon have company as the lawsuit states that “Jane and John Does 1-10 are as of yet unidentified Defendants” but will be added once they are discovered.

The suit says that the former employees “have engaged in a coordinated effort to undermine the business by making false claims of racism and a hostile work environment” against [Jason] LeCates and the ownership and “damaging the establishments’ reputations and goodwill.”

Mulligan and Wood also have been “threatening current employees to shame them in order to have them quit their jobs,” the lawsuit states.

Mulligan and Wood may have been disgruntled employees before the BLM comment were made, according to the complaint.

While Mulligan was a manager at Bourbon House, he was late or missed shifts, leading to a confrontation with Food and Beverage Director Matt Crandall. Shortly thereafter, Mulligan quit and Wood followed.

In January 2020, Bourbon House Group donated a chef-prepared dinner for 12 people to an auction that would benefit the Larry H. Miller Foundation.

Four or five former employees, including Mulligan and Wood, who had either quit or were fired attended, the complaint states, “and Kevin Mulligan placed a winning bid on the dinner,” using the false name of Linda Fay to get it.

The dinner was held Jan. 15 at the home of Wood’s parents, the suit states. At that time, Mulligan admitted to Crandall “that he created the Linda Fay profile.”