Harley Branham, the manager of a Missouri Dairy Queen, has been charged with second-degree involuntary manslaughter after one of her employees committed suicide.
A coroner’s jury ruled on Tuesday that 17-year-old Kenneth Suttner’s late December suicide was triggered by years of bullying at school and at Branham’s Dairy Queen, where he was frequently ridiculed by her. She reportedly harassed Suttner, making him clean the floor by hand while lying on his stomach and throwing a cheeseburger at him after he made it incorrectly.
Branham, who has since been fired for unrelated reasons, has denied the bullying, but admitted to jokingly picking on the teen.
“There’s a lot of people at Dairy Queen saying I was the reason [Suttner killed himself],” Branham said. “But I don’t understand why it would be that way.”
However, Allison Bennett, who also worked with Suttner at the Dairy Queen location, said he was harassed at work so often that he would go outside and cry. Others who testified added that he was often teased by bullies at school, making matters worse.
After six hours of testimony, jurors not only concluded Branham was the “principal in the cause of death,” but they also found Dairy Queen failed to properly train their employees on issues in regard to harassment. Glasgow Public Schools, the school system Suttner attended, was also found negligent in failing to prevent bullying.
“We first learned of the situation today and our thoughts and prayers are with the family,” Dairy Queen said in a statement, noting that the location where Suttner and Branham worked is independently owned. “We are still in the process of gathering information, but understand from the franchisee that the manager is no longer employed at this location.”