WEST BLOOMFIELD TWP, Mich. (FOX 2) - A black woman says she was discriminated against by employees at J. Alexander's West Bloomfield last week when she refused to give up her seat for a white man. Now, her and her attorney are demanding the employees involved to be fired.
Liah Gant sat with her attorney, Maurice Davis and Jerrick Jefferson, another man who said the restaurant discriminated against him that same night, during a press conference on Tuesday, recounting their experiences at the West Bloomfield restaurant.
Gant said she was sitting at the bar with a drink in front of her when the bartender gestured to two white men who were looking for a place to sit. Gant said she had an open seat next to her for a friend who was in the restaurant but not sitting down. Despite that, she said the bartender told the two white men to take their seats.
When she refused, she said the bartender took the drink away from her, poured it in the sink, and told Gant she wouldn't serve her.
"I sat there for a couple of minutes, trying to just really understand what happened. I got up and walked to a manager. She walked me back to the bar and said 'do you want to sit in the dining room?' I said 'no I want to sit with my friends where we were seated'," Gant said.
When Gant talked to the manager, she was first told the drink would not be charged. The manager had a "change of heart", according to Davis, and ultimately charged her for the drink, saying there were "two sides to every story".
"That manager was correct, there are two sides: the right side and the wrong side. In this incident, that manager chose to be on the wrong side. That manager chose the side that says 'it's okay to be racist towards your black patrons, it's okay to deny them service, it's okay to deny them their basic humanity'," Davis said.
Gant said the bartender was told not to serve her - but to serve everyone else at the bar.
On the same day, Jefferson was also eating at J. Alexander's. He told FOX 2 his story last week that the manager on duty was unhelpful as people called him racial slurs and threw food at him.
Jefferson said when they got to J. Alexander's, he had to bus his own table while employees watched and that they had their order mixed up and sitting at separate locations in the restaurant. He said then he felt they were being racially profiled.
"When I pointed out to her that we were feeling like we were racially profiled - based on observation in the restaurant, based on how they interacted with white patrons - (the manager) simply stated to us that she's walking away," Jefferson said.
He said the manager walked away to talk to another manager. Jefferson said he walked up to both and asked if the restaurant has a "culture of racism and discrimination with respect to how they treat their patrons."
He said a man at the bar jumped in and called him the n-word and said "n's go home".
Jefferson said the managers and employees then helped hide the man when police had arrived.
"I suggest to all black people looking at this press conference that it's time for us to not spend our money with people that are racist. Racism starts with management. The managers at the restaurant are racist. They should be terminated," Jefferson said.
Gant and Jefferson do not know each other but both said they experienced racial discrimination on the same night in the same area.
Davis, Gant, and Jefferson are asking for all employees involved that night to be terminated.
"Our civil rights leaders fought for over a century to secure a black citizen's right to have a seat at the table, and we refuse to backslide into a nation where black people are told to give up their seat to white people, where black people are denied service at restaurants," Davis said. "If J. Alexander refuses to recognize my client's dignity at a restaurant, we will make sure they recognize her dignity in a court of law."
In response to the press conference, the restaurant released this statement, saying that none of its employees made racial remarks and that the restaurant is cooperating with police:
Since opening our doors in West Bloomfield more than 21 years ago, J. Alexander's Restaurant has offered the highest quality food and professional service in a safe, respectful and welcoming environment. We have always adhered to a strict non-discrimination policy for all our restaurant staff and guests to ensure the best possible working and dining environment. This includes treating every customer with the same non-discriminatory service. We do not tolerate any diversion from this policy and likewise do not tolerate any inappropriate behavior from either guests or employees.
On June 20, our staff and many of our guests experienced an unfortunate incident that disrupted the otherwise pleasant dining environment in our West Bloomfield restaurant. Our staff made every responsible effort to safely diffuse this incident in the face of profanity and acts of misbehavior directed at them. None of our employees used profanity, made racial remarks or threw food but certain guests did. Ironically, two of those guests involved in this incident have falsely accused our staff of racial discrimination.
The West Bloomfield police were called in during this incident to assist with the unruly behavior of certain guests. Any guest who threw food or was otherwise disruptive was asked to leave. Working with police, our staff made certain that every guest left the restaurant through the front door of the restaurant. We have turned the security surveillance video over to the West Bloomfield police. We will remain in close contact with the police department as we await a report on their investigation and their determination as to whether any formal charges related to this behavior are warranted.
We are grateful to have been a part of West Bloomfield for more than two decades, and we look forward to continuing to serve our guests with a pleasant dining experience.