LINCOLN, NE—Controversy engulfed the fast-food industry Monday with the decision by Denny's to formally discipline Lincoln-area fry cook Raymond Ortiz for an alleged scheduling-policy violation.

Embattled fry cook Raymond Ortiz.

According to Denny's director of public relations Donald Bleiden, Ortiz committed his third major violation in less than 60 days when, on July 20, he failed to arrive on time for his scheduled shift at Denny's Store #794 at Highway 23 and Pflaum Road, showing up more than 27 minutes late after being personally telephoned by the assistant manager on duty.

Company policy, Bleiden explained, "dictates in no uncertain terms" that such a violation will result in a written warning, to be permanently included in Ortiz's personnel file, as well as "punitive reductions in preferred-scheduling privileges over the course of the subsequent four weeks." Ortiz will also have a demerit added to his six-month evaluation form.

Though the embattled Ortiz has accepted the disciplinary action upon advice from counsel, he vehemently maintains his innocence.

"I was totally cleared of having to work that weekend," Ortiz said. "I totally switched with Gus a full week before, so I could have off to go to my friend Doug's barbecue at his dad's cabin. I even worked the extra shift I traded for already, but that fucker Gus just blew it off and took off to go rock-climbing or some shit without even telling his roommates where he'd be."

Said Ortiz attorney Blake Whitcomb: "It is Gus who should face these charges, not my client."

Denny's officials insist that Ortiz's shift-trade was invalid, explaining that employees are not allowed to switch schedules without prior approval by a manager or assistant manager. The Ortiz camp claims the trade was approved by assistant manager Darryl Klembroke, who failed to enter it into the shift log and is, therefore, responsible for the shift change not being recorded on the official schedule.

The situation was further complicated Tuesday when Klembroke, a key figure in the dispute, unexpectedly quit without notice. Allegedly telling the entire day crew to "go fuck yourselves" and declaring that he hopes to "never see the inside of another cocksucking Denny's again as long as I fucking live," Klembroke is believed to have moved to Cleveland, where his sister lives. He left no forwarding address or phone number, and is unwilling to confirm or deny Ortiz's story.

"I had that shift covered, dammit," said Ortiz with a defeated sigh. "I reminded that bastard Klembroke to change it on the official schedule three fucking times, and he never fucking did it. Now, I get the blame."

Added Ortiz: "This whole place is bullshit. I oughta just go back to Arby's where I was appreciated."

Despite the questions surrounding the disciplinary action, many are lauding the "get-tough" stance adopted by Denny's, a chain some food-service-industry observers say has been "soft on insubordination" for far too long.

"It's about time somebody in the Denny's corporate-leadership hierarchy did something to address this worsening problem," said Frank Hobart, a longtime advocate of stiffer penalties for fast-food employees who violate company policy. "The recent annals of fast food are a veritable Ledger Of Shame, rife with examples of unconscionable disregard for proper procedure. Sadly, the vast percentage of these incidents go unpunished by managers and assistant managers at the regional level who are, unfortunately, more concerned with 'not rocking the boat' than with maintaining proper kitchen-team discipline."

Decrying many crew chiefs' unwillingness to enforce even the most basic of regulations, Hobart added, "Sadly, nowadays, even an adage as time-honored as, 'If there's time to lean, there's time to clean' has become just so much empty rhetoric."

Other, equally adamant voices disagree, however, saying that what is happening to Ortiz is nothing short of a miscarriage of justice.

"Sure, he can still try to get the disciplinary action removed from his file, but the Denny's appeal process is notoriously slow and inefficient," said Thom Winningham, chairman of Citizens For Ortiz, a national legal-defense fund dedicated to aiding the fry cook. "My heart goes out to the workers on America's fast-food front lines. Our boys in uniform face blistering heat, incompetent middle management and worse in their efforts to provide the rest of us with a fast, tasty, affordable meal. And, in most cases, they barely get minimum wage. In our society, it's always the ones who have never flipped a burger in their lives who are the first to complain that they could do it so much better. I say Ortiz's tragedy is our own."