Denny's restaurant sued over service to blacks


A Denny's restaurant in Salisbury in August refused to serve three African-Americans, who waited two hours after ordering breakfast and left unfed, according to a federal lawsuit filed yesterday.

The incident, the suit said, occurred three months after a $46 million settlement between the restaurant chain and 58 plaintiffs nationwide who had claimed a pattern of racial discrimination. In the lawsuits, Denny's and its employees were accused of failing to serve blacks or requiring them to pay a cover charge and pay their bills before receiving meals.

The Salisbury restaurant is a franchise operation, and is not owned by the national chain, said lawyer C. Christopher Brown, who is representing the three customers. Even so, he called the incident "surprising."

"It seemed that with all that had happened nationally, this would not be happening again," said Mr. Brown, who filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. "You would think Denny's employees would be supersensitive to the issue."

Efforts to reach executives with Rommel Enterprises Limited Partnership, which owns the restaurant, were unsuccessful yesterday.

According to the suit, Chukwuma Uba of Baltimore and two friends from the Eastern Shore arrived at the restaurant about 2 a.m. on a Sunday morning in August. When they tried to order carryout service, a waitress told them it was not available at that hour and seated them at a table. However, after ordering, the three noticed that white customers were being sold carryout food and beverages, the suit said. They repeatedly asked their waitress how soon their order would be ready, and each time were told "soon."

By 3 a.m., still waiting for their food, they noticed that several white customers had arrived at the restaurant, been served and left. When they approached the restaurant manager, they were told their meals would be ready in 15 or 20 minutes, the suit said.

When the meals had not arrived by 4 a.m., they left the restaurant, according to the suit.

The complaint alleges a policy of race-based discrimination by the restaurant and asks for unspecified damages.

In May 1993, six black Secret Service officers sued the Denny's chain, alleging that they were not served breakfast at the restaurant on West Street in Annapolis while their white colleagues received meals promptly. The agents had been providing security for a visit by President Clinton to the Naval Academy.

In that and other lawsuits nationwide, Denny's and its employees were accused of ejecting black customers, segregating black customers, using racial epithets, failing to honor advertised specials for black customers and trying to limit the number of black customers in a restaurant at any one time.

At the time, Justice Department officials said the $46 million nationwide settlement called for the most sweeping preventive measures and largest monetary damages ever agreed to in a case involving the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bars discrimination based on race, religion or national origin in public facilities such as hotels and restaurants.

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