A group of transgender woman and a gender non-conforming person are suing a Harlem fast food restaurant for refusing to serve them, reports the New York Daily News.
In the lawsuit, filed in Manhattan Supreme Court earlier this week, the plaintiffs allege that the restaurant’s employees violated a portion of New York’s civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on sex.
Deja Smith, 36, and her friends Daniele Marino, Jonovia Chase, Jahmila Adderley, and Valerie Spencer say they attempted to grab food at the Texas Chicken & Burgers on Frederick Douglass Boulevard in Harlem on May 28. But the employee behind the counter ignored their order, claiming they had no chicken tenders or chicken wings to give them.
According to the plaintiffs’ complaint, Spencer then attempted to ask about a fried fish special advertised in the window, but the employee refused to fill the order. When Spencer asked “Excuse me, sir, are you blatantly ignoring me to disrespect me?”, she claims he looked directly at her and responded “yes.”
Despite insisting the restaurant was out of poultry and fish, moments later, a white, cisgender man ordered and was given a nine-piece box of tenders. Smith then pulled out her phone and began recording a short video asking fellow patrons if they saw her and her group of friends being discriminated against.
Smith, who works as a makeup artist for actress Laverne Cox, posted the video to her Instagram account, which has about 12,000 followers. The video later went viral after Cox re-shared the video on her own Instagram account, which has more than 3.1 million followers.
The lawsuit alleges that Texas Chicken & Burgers posted a letter to its social media ascribing the confrontation with the group to a misunderstanding, in which the employee behind the counter believed the restaurant had run out of the food in question.
Lawyers for the group claim that Texas Chicken & Burgers unlawfully discriminated against the group because of their gender identity and failure to adhere to gender norms, which violates New York State’s law against sex discrimination, and New York City law, which explicitly protects against both sex discrimination and discrimination based on a person’s gender identity or expression. The lawsuit also claims the plaintiffs suffered emotional distress because of their treatment.
The women and their lawyers held a rally announcing their lawsuit in front of the historic Stonewall Inn on Thursday.
“I’m really frustrated with the microaggressions that people put to trans people,” Smith said at the rally. “All of these microaggressions is what is leading to a general attitude of aggression towards trans people in the country.”
“The most basic of civil rights for all human beings is the right to self-expression,” Ben Crump, the lawyer for the plaintiffs, said. “In that Texas Chicken & Burger, they tried to oppress the self-expression of Deja, Mila, Dee, Jenovia, and Valerie.”
But one gay employee of the restaurant told the Daily News that the women’s account is false. Danny Gonzalez alleges that one of the women accused the workers of serving her fewer chicken tenders than another customer had received in his basket. But, in fact, he said, she received the amount that she ordered.
The employees refused to change an order that had already been placed and paid for, but refunded her money following the argument.
Gonzalez told the Daily News he would never discriminate based on gender identity, because he’s gay himself.
The manager of the Harlem restaurant, Gustavo Herrera, was not at the restaurant at the time but, relying on his workers’ accounts, said the flap started with a simple misunderstanding.
Herrera said his employees later offered chicken to the group, but Smith and her friends refused.
Smith says that Herrera’s claims just aren’t true, and that the group was never offered chicken during or after the incident.
“That never happened,” she says. “I really hope they really have surveillance video.”
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