TRINITY — It was Saturday night, and bar manager Darra Kollios was bantering good naturedly with a customer at the Trinity Grill.
"I can't remember what we were laughing at," she said. "I think we were talking about the horse race."
All of a sudden, owner Dohaeng Heo walked up and told her to quit laughing. Minutes later, Kollios found herself without a job.
Everyone agrees on that much but little else. And no one's laughing anymore.
"I was just blown away," said Kollios, who owns an online decorative pottery business but has spent years working as a bartender to supplement her income. For the past couple of months, she has worked nights at the Trinity Grill, which has an open kitchen and plays soft rock over the radio.
Here's her version of what happened that night:
Kollios was talking with the customer when Heo walked up.
"He said 'You cannot laugh. If you laugh again you will have to leave.' "
When she asked what the problem was, he called his restaurant "a quiet place" and said she could finish her shift and go home.
"Are you firing me?"
"Are you firing me?"
"Yes," he said.
Kollios packed up her things. The customer, whose first name was Jeff but whose last name she didn't get, helped her carry them out to the car.
Here's what Heo said happened:
Since she started working there, Kollios laughed loudly and often. She also sometimes sang to herself.
"I can't mimic it," he said of Kollios' laugh, which she describes as "more of a giggle."
He feared the noise would disturb customers, 85 percent of whom are older than 60. He said there is no ban on laughter, and he understands the higher noise level from the occasional birthday party. But he prefers a calm atmosphere.
"This is not a sports bar," he said.
On Saturday, no one complained, but Heo worried about the noise level. He asked Kollios to stop laughing and told her if she couldn't she would have to go home. Her response was "Oh, are you firing me?"
Then, she gathered up "all her private stuff" and left.
"She could still work if she wanted to stay silent," he said. Heo also said Kollios reacted angrily when he cut her hours recently because business had slowed.
"She said, 'If you try to fire me, you'll be sorry,' " he said.
Kollios called that assertion "a flat out lie."
Three days later, Kollios asked Heo for a letter documenting her status.
"WHENEVER YOU HAD WORKED IN THE RESTAURANT, YOU MADE NOISE WITH LAUGHING LOUDLY," the letter said. It said her position had been terminated but later said she had quit.
Kollios, a divorced mom of a 7-year-old girl, said she wouldn't have quit because she needs the money. She'll search for another job but isn't optimistic as summer is slow and the economy stinks.
"I'm going to be back to struggling again," said Kollios, who refuses to give her age for fear of discrimination. "If you know anybody who wants a laughing bartender, let me know."
Lisa Buie can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 909-4604.