A woman in Michigan has filed a class-action lawsuit against J. Alexander’s restaurant after alleging she was the victim of racial discrimination at a location just outside of Detroit.
On Wednesday afternoon, however, the restaurant responded with a lengthy statement, calling the woman's allegations false and claiming to have surveillance footage that proves the staff was not discriminatory.
Liah Gant claims she was sitting at the bar of the J. Alexander’s in West Bloomfield on Thursday night when a bartender asked her to give up her seat so two white men could sit down. She refused, and the bartender responded by taking her drinks away and pouring them out, according to Gant.
The issue was escalated to a manager, who initially offered to sit her elsewhere in the dining area, said Gant during a Monday press conference alongside her lawyer, Maurice Davis, and another patron, Jerrick Jefferson, who said he was also discriminated against on the same night.
Gant claims she tried to explain further, but was told by the manager that she shouldn’t be upset because the drink wasn’t thrown “on” her, but rather down the sink.
“And that’s when I was like, OK. I wanted to pull out my phone and record in that moment.”
Gant said the manager warned her against pulling out her phone to film anything and started “getting loud.” Shortly afterward, another black patron approached the manager on Gant’s behalf, at which point a white customer began yelling at Gant and the other patron, and allegedly threw food at him, according to Fox 2 Detroit.
Footage Gant took from the restaurant appears to show the white customer, dressed in all black, throwing or pushing something at someone just off the screen. Gant can be heard turning to other staff members and saying, “He threw that!”
Gant claims she was also physically pushed out of the restaurant by staff, while the white customer was “protected” inside the restaurant and allowed to leave through the back.
“It’s been a very traumatic experience. And then as I’m exiting the restaurant, to be physically pushed out by staff, while someone [else] is protected, that’s called me … [the] b-word, saying f-you and all types of things, it just shows that no matter how innocent you are, no matter how innocent I was, I was still not protected. They chose to protect that other individual, and that deeply saddens me.”
Davis is also representing another customer, Jerrick Jefferson, who was in the restaurant the same night celebrating his anniversary with his wife. Jefferson claims he, too, was treated poorly after complaining about bad service and racial profiling, with the manager walking away from him mid-complaint.
"This isn't coincidental; this restaurant has a culture of racism," Jefferson said, per Fox 2 Detroit.
J. Alexander’s has since responded to the allegations in a statement provided to Fox News. The company calls the allegations "false," and claims to have surveillance footage proving Gant was not asked to leave.
"The recent allegations of racial discrimination by a guest at our West Bloomfield location on June 20 are false," the company said in an emailed statement to Fox News. "Surveillance video clearly shows that the female guest making the charge of discrimination was not asked to give up her seat for white guests. The female guest was trying to save a seat for a friend who had not yet arrived, and she was informed that seats in the pub area could not be saved. She was offered a table for herself and her party in the main dining area, but declined, insisting that she stay in the pub area. Surveillance video clearly shows this female guest remains in her seat in the pub area for more than an hour enjoying beverages and dining with two acquaintances."
The statement also claims a separate guest had been "shouting at a disruptive manner" at the manager and "uttering profanity and insults" at the staff.
"As he and his family were leaving the restaurant, surveillance video shows that another patron – not a restaurant employee - threw a container of food from a take-out order at the male guest and his party. According to surveillance video, the patron who threw the container of food later left the restaurant through the front door after employees attempted to separate the two parties and diffuse the altercation to the best of their ability," the statement reads.
J. Alexander's said police arrived to collect information. The restaurant also gave police its surveillance footage, and now awaits "a report on their investigation and their determination as to whether any formal charges related to this behavior are warranted."
"J. Alexander’s Restaurant has consistently adhered to a set of non-discriminatory standards that are as comprehensive as any in our industry. We are proud of our track record of non-discrimination during the 21 years we have been a member of the community and look forward to continuing to serve our guests with outstanding food and service," the restaurant concluded.
Local law enforcement officials are reportedly conducting an investigation.