Chili’s wouldn’t serve Black family until they paid upfront, woman says. She’s suing

A Colorado woman wanted to celebrate her birthday with her family at a local Chili’s restaurant — but the restaurant wouldn’t take their order until they paid upfront, according to a new federal discrimination lawsuit.

The woman says she and her family were the only Black customers inside the Chili’s in Denver on April 30, 2022, in a complaint filed Nov. 28 in Denver federal court.

After the woman, her husband and two children, a 6-year-old and a 9-year-old, were seated, a manager approached their table 10 minutes later, according to the complaint.

The Chili’s manager “demanded that (she) provide a valid form of payment upfront prior to taking her order if she wished to dine at the restaurant,” the complaint says.

No other restaurant patrons were asked to provide payment upfront, according to the complaint, which accuses Chili’s of refusing to serve the family based on their race.

Chili’s “justified” the demand for payment by accusing the woman of skipping out on a previous meal — an unproven accusation the woman denies, the complaint says.

The restaurant never took the family’s order that day, according to the complaint.

Now, the woman is suing Brinker International Inc., Chili’s parent company, and accusing the company of violating her civil rights and racial discrimination, the complaint shows.

McClatchy News contacted Brinker International for comment on Dec. 6 and didn’t receive an immediate response.

The Denver Post first reported the case.

In a statement to McClatchy News on Dec. 6, a Chili’s spokesperson confirmed the company is aware of the lawsuit but declined to comment on it.

“We value every Chili’s Guest and take the responsibility of fostering an inclusive environment for all very seriously,” the spokesperson told McClatchy News. “We do not condone or tolerate discrimination of any kind, as the safety and well-being of our Team Members and Guests is a top priority.”

The state issues a right to sue

The woman first filed a charge of discrimination against Chili’s with Colorado’s Civil Rights Division, the complaint says.

After the division declared Chili’s violated state discrimination laws based on the woman’s accusations, it issued her the right to file a lawsuit in August, according to the complaint.

After accusing the woman of not paying for meals, Chili’s “refused” to back up the claims with evidence, the complaint says.

According to the suit, the woman asked a waiter who had previously served her if he accused her of not paying for prior meals. He told her no and that “(she) and her family were frequent, loyal customers at Chili’s who always paid their bills,” the complaint says.

The incident left the woman “frustrated, angry, embarrassed, and humiliated in front of her family and the other patrons of the restaurant,” according to the complaint.

“As of the date of filing this complaint, Chili’s has been unable to provide a legitimate non-discriminatory reason that (the woman) ... was singled out, accused of theft, and denied service without a valid form of payment up front,” the complaint says.

The woman seeks a trial by jury and requests the court to declare Chili’s violated both federal and state law, the complaint shows.

She seeks to recover unspecified compensatory, nominal, economic, consequential and punitive damages and other forms of relief, according to the complaint.

“The incident has caused (her) immense anxiety and fear that when she enters a store or restaurant, she will be falsely accused of shoplifting or thievery, solely due to her African American race,” the complaint says. “She is genuinely fearful that similar discrimination will occur to her and her children in the future based on their African American race.”

In addition to Chili’s, Brinker International also owns Maggiano’s Little Italy and It’s Just Wings restaurant chains.

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