Members of the black sorority Delta Sigma Theta and others filed suit against Bahama Breeze Holdings, LLC on Monday claiming racial discrimination. The sorority women stated that they were mistreated during a June 19 visit to the restaurant located at 3900 Orange Place in Orange, according to the suit filed in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court.

The suit states that the restaurant “targeted” the group of women “for dining while black.

“Bahama Breeze and its staff treated these professional, educated patrons like criminals because of the color of their skin,” the lawsuit states.

Danielle Nelson, of Gilbert, Arizona, and other plaintiffs announced the lawsuit during a Monday press conference at the office of attorney Subodh Chandra in Cleveland.

“The plaintiffs in this case are determined to hold Bahama Breeze accountable,” Mr. Chandra said in a phone interview. “In 2018, places of public accommodation should treat everyone equally. Unfortunately, in this era, some people feel emboldened not to do so, and that must end.”

The suit states that members of the Greater Cleveland Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta sorority were not seated in a timely manner even though they had a reservation, were lied to about the cause of the delay and received inattentive and disinterested service. The 25 patrons that included sorority sisters and their friends, both men and women, said in the suit that one of the managers referred to them as “you and your people.” Plaintiffs stated that the restaurant did not correct a myriad of errors, such as forgetting parts of their orders, not serving the orders and refusing to bring a bill when requested.

The suit claiming public accommodations discrimination also names Francis Skupnik of Strongsville and Devin Jenkins of Cleveland Heights, both Bahama Breeze managers at the time of the incident. The suit states that Mr. Skupnik and Ms. Jenkins aided or incited discrimination and made false alarms.

Darden Senior Director of Communications Rich Jeffers said in reaction to the suit that, “Everyone is welcome in our restaurants, and we strive to provide an exceptional experience for all our guests. The managers involved no longer works for us because they mistreated a guest, which is inconsistent with our values.” Darden is the parent company of Bahama Breeze.

In the recorded 911 call requesting police assistance on June19, Mr. Skupnik identified himself to the dispatcher and told her there were about 40 unruly guests that was supposed to be a group of 20. He also told the dispatcher that the people in the group threatened to leave without paying the bill, but were still in the restaurant.

The plaintiffs said there were only 25 in their group having dinner that evening.

Orange village police officers were dispatched to the restaurant and said in a report that no action was needed because patrons had paid their bills and left the restaurant.

The plaintiffs are requesting judgment in their favor on all claims, full compensatory economic and non-economic damages, including damages for emotional distress and exemplary damages, prejudgment and post-judgment interest, and costs incurred in maintaining this action.

The plaintiffs are also asking the defendants to stop discriminating against black customers and to protect black patrons from abuses of the 911 response system.

Julie Hullett has been a reporter for the Chagrin Valley Times since August of 2018 and covers Gates Mills, Hunting Valley, Moreland Hills, Pepper Pike, Orange and Woodmere. She graduated from John Carroll University with a journalism degree in 2018.

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