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Lawsuit accusing Atlas Restaurant Group of racial discrimination filed following Ouzo Bay incident

Atlas Restaurant Group is facing a discrimination lawsuit from a woman who says she and her 9-year-old son were barred from eating at Ouzo Bay on account of their race.
Atlas Restaurant Group is facing a discrimination lawsuit from a woman who says she and her 9-year-old son were barred from eating at Ouzo Bay on account of their race. (Caitlin Faw / Baltimore Sun)

One of the area’s largest restaurant groups faces a discrimination lawsuit from a woman who says she and her son were barred from one of their restaurants on account of their race.

The suit filed Monday in Baltimore City Circuit Court seeks more than $75,000 from the Atlas Restaurant Group for Marcia Grant and her 9 year-old son for each of three alleged offenses, including violating their rights and inflicting emotional harm.

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It’s the latest fallout from an incident two weeks ago caught on video taken at Ouzo Bay that’s led to an outpouring of criticism, calls for a boycott and a Baltimore City Council resolution.

On June 21, Grant, a Black Realtor, and her 9-year-old son, Dallas, attempted to dine at Ouzo Bay, an Atlas-owned Greek restaurant in Harbor East. In footage Grant filmed at the scene and shared to social media, which has been viewed millions of times, a manager informs her that Dallas’ athletic shorts violate the restaurant’s dress code. However, Grant video shows a white child she points out is wearing similar clothing nearby.

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The lawsuit, which lists both Grant and her son as plaintiffs, says the only obvious difference between Dallas and the white child was the color of their skin. Denying them service based on race violated the law and caused them ongoing emotional distress.

That conduct was “atrocious, intolerable and so extreme and outrageous as to exceed the bounds of decency,” according to the suit. While the manager involved was later fired, the suit claims he was working within the framework of his employment, and the restaurant group is on the hook for his actions.

Grant told The Baltimore Sun last month she feared the incident at Ouzo Bay would leave enduring scars on her son, a rising fourth grader. “This is something that he’s going to have to live with for the rest of his life. It doesn’t heal like a wound would.”

She is represented locally by attorney Joseph E. Spicer of Baltimore’s Cohen Harris LLC. Lead counsel is Donte Mills and Lennon Edwards of Mills & Edwards LLP, a civil litigation firm with offices in New York and Pennsylvania specializing in personal injury, civil rights and criminal law.

In anticipation of the lawsuit, Atlas released a statement detailing the brand of the white child’s shorts, saying they complied with the Ouzo Bay dress code. The memo, signed by attorney Scott Marder of Baltimore’s Thomas & Libowitz law firm, called on Grant to release the full 10-minute version of the video she took at the restaurant, which he claims depicts a manager showing her the dress code sign at the front door.

“The dress code was applied equally to [Grant and Dallas], as it has been to every person who walks through the front door, regardless of their race,” Marder wrote. He included in his email surveillance photos that show Black patrons at Ouzo Bay the day Grant was denied entry.

In response to criticism surrounding the incident, Atlas placed on leave and then fired two Ouzo Bay managers, saying it was a mistake for them to turn Dallas away, even though he violated the dress code. The company has since abolished the dress code for children and scaled it back at its other restaurants in the city.

Marder added that the restaurant group had made many efforts to reach out to Grant after the incident and accused her of going on an “orchestrated media tour.”

The incident at Ouzo Bay has already spread far past the boundaries of Harbor East. Grant’s video has attracted broad condemnation as well as protests in Baltimore. Grant and her son appeared on “Good Morning America,” where anchor and former football player Michael Strahan, who is Black, invited Dallas to dinner.

In recent weeks, patrons and former employees have spoken out about discrimination at Atlas-owned restaurants in the city. Citing experiences of being turned away or asked to leave their restaurants, State Sen. Jill P. Carter, who is Black, made the case for a boycott of Atlas eateries until they go out of business.

Baltimore’s City Council adopted a resolution this week urging Atlas Restaurant Group to drop dress codes at its 15 Baltimore restaurants and bars because they are “too open for interpretation and, intended or not, for discrimination.”

Representatives for Grant could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

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In an email, Joe Sweeney, a spokesman for Atlas Restaurant Group founder Alex Smith, reiterated steps the company has taken to address the incident, including retraining staff and forming a corporate social responsibility board. “We will continue to reinforce our commitment to equity, fairness and inclusion for everyone.”

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