Eunice Jasica has been staying at the Salvation Army lodge since early December after losing her job, her car and her home.
The nonprofit organization requires its residents to seek employment daily and, upon finding it, to pay for lodging and start saving for a place of their own. Jasica said she had been job hunting for months and was relieved to find work on March 11 at the KFC on North Gloster Street.
A document signed by that location’s general manager on March 12 confirms Jasica had been hired to perform “prep work” and would receive a paycheck every two weeks.
But when Jasica reported for duty Monday, franchise owner Chesley Ruff withdrew the job offer upon learning she lived at the Salvation Army.
“He told me to come back when I had an address and transportation,” Jasica recalled. “But how am I supposed to get all that without a job?”
Ruff signed a letter the same day stating he couldn’t employ her “due to concerns of lack of residence and transportation” and that she could reapply when her circumstances change.
On Thursday, though, Ruff said he’d only used the homeless excuse to protect Jasica from the real reason he declined her services: She has no prior food-prep experience and seemed too elderly to lift the 40-pound boxes involved in kitchen work.
Jasica is 59 years old and had worked 27 years as a bus driver and also did security for Bloomingdale’s. She attends classes at Itawamba Community College when she’s not job hunting.
“I was trying to spare her feelings, I guess,” Ruff said. “I don’t know if that’s right or wrong, but I know it was stupid.”
KFC operates more than 5,200 restaurants nationwide and follows all applicable employment laws, but its independent franchisees make their own hiring decisions, said KFC Corp. spokesman Rick Maynard.
Mississippi is an at-will employment state. That means the employer or employee can terminate the relationship at any time for any reason as long as it doesn’t violate anti-discrimination statutes based on factors like race, age, color, religion, sex, national origin or disability.
Under the law, Ruff had the right to terminate Jasica’s employment based on her lack of a permanent residence but not, for example, because of her age.
Ruff said he never terminated Jasica, though, because she hadn’t yet been hired. The document signed by the store’s general manager says otherwise. The general manager would not comment.
Although he refused to employ Jasica, Ruff has hired homeless people in the past. Among them was Scott Kohlman, a felon who came to Tupelo after his release from prison.
Kohlman, who was homeless, had worked at Ruff’s KFC for several months and even became a manager, according to Salvation Army Maj. Sue Dorman. His story also had appeared in the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal.
Kohlman did not return a call for comment Thursday.
“Over the 20 or so years I’ve been in Tupelo doing business,” Ruff said, “I have helped people before.”
That’s why his refusal to employ Jasica shocked Dorman. She said she called Ruff after seeing his letter Monday and was told simply that it’s company policy not to employ people lacking stable housing or transportation.
Ruff never mentioned concerns about Jasica’s ability to lift heavy boxes or her lack of food-prep work, Dorman said.
“I was ticked,” Dorman said. “She’s one of those that’s really trying hard. She doesn’t want a hand-out.”
This week’s incident is a first for the Salvation Army in Tupelo and for similar agencies operating throughout Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana, said the organization’s three-state divisional spokesman Mark Jones.
Jones called the situation “disheartening.”