NFL Hall of Famer Lem Barney sues Detroit pizza chain for race discrimination

Lions great and Hall of Famer Lem Barney says a Detroit-area pizza chain directed him to another location away from a white neighborhood. (Getty)

Pro Football Hall of Famer Lem Barney has sued Detroit-area pizza chain Happy’s Pizza, alleging race discrimination, the Detroit Free Press reports.

The seven-time Pro Bowl cornerback and 1967 NFL Defensive Player of the Year for the Detroit Lions claims that a store manager at a Happy’s Pizza in the Detroit suburb of Commerce Township refused to serve him and his wife because they are African-American.

Happy’s Pizza denies the allegation, stating that the location wasn’t open to the public that particular day.

Lawsuit: Barneys turned away from store in white suburb

Barney claims that the manager at the store in the majority white suburb suggested that he go to a Happy’s Pizza location in Southfield, Michigan approximately 20 miles away.

According to Statistical Atlas, 90.4 percent of the population in Commerce Township is white while 69.4 percent of the population in Southfield is African-American.

Barney’s wife Jacqueline Barney provided a statement to the Free Press on the lawsuit filed Monday in a U.S. District Court in Detroit. 

“The days of slavery are over but some people feel they can treat black people like 2nd class citizens,” Jacqueline Barney wrote. “Well I will not stand for it. I am taking a stand on behalf of all people of color that this will not be tolerated. Shame on them.”

Happy’s Pizza denies that racism was the reason the Barneys were turned away from one of their locations. (Getty)

Happy’s Pizza denies race was a factor

Happy’s Pizza spokesperson Sherrie Handrinos told the Free Press that the Commerce Township location was not open to the public the day the Barneys visited and that around 30 other customers were advised to attend other locations on the same day. She said that the store was testing food and equipment for a future opening but not selling food. 

“There was never any racist anything,” Handrinos told the Free Press. “From what I’ve heard, Southfield wasn’t mentioned to anyone.”

Barneys called police when they were denied service

According to the lawsuit obtained by the Free Press, the Barneys called police after they were refused service. The lawsuit states that the manager told the responding officer that the store wasn’t open to the public because it was preparing for a corporate catering event.

The couple’s attorney James Acho told the Free Press that he intends to seek security footage from the store backing the Barneys’ claims.

“He yelled at them twice,” Acho said of the manager. “He said, ‘Go to Southfield. You’re more at home there.’ And then we’ll know … These people are full of it. I don’t believe it, not one bit.”

According to the chain’s web site, Happy’s Pizza, founded in Detroit, has more than 60 locations throughout Michigan and Ohio.

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