December 18, 2017
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Portland seafood restaurant accused of racism

By Judy Harrison, BDN Staff

A well-known Old Port restaurant is being sued by a former Mainer who says she received second-class service because she and most of her guests aren’t white.

RyiSHisa D. Morris, who now lives in Lowell, Massachusetts, alleged she was so traumatized by the experience that she moved away from Maine.

Morris’s attorney, David Webbert of Augusta, filed a discrimination lawsuit this week in U.S. District Court in Portland against Fish Shack LLC, which operates Boone’s Fish House and Oyster Room on Commercial Street. The restaurant is owned by Harding Lee Smith, according to its website.

Smith’s attorney, Michael Vaillancourt of South Portland, noted that in August the Maine Human Rights Commission ruled that there was no reason to believe Morris had been discriminated against on the basis of race, color, national origin or ancestry.

Pointing to that 4-to-0 ruling, Vaillancourt said Thursday in an email, “my client believes that Ms. Morris’s complaint is without merit. As such, Boone’s Fish House and Oyster Room will take all necessary steps to vigorously defend against this lawsuit.”

Morris, who is black and Native American, claims the restaurant wait staff discriminated against her and the 20 or so people who joined her Feb. 13, 2015, to celebrate her birthday.

“People of color cannot and must not be treated as second-class citizens,” Webbert said Thursday in an email

“Unfortunately, Boone’s Fish House did just that when it ruined Ms. Morris’s 29th birthday party because of the color of her skin.”

Co-counsel Valerie Wicks said Morris had friends who traveled from Los Angeles to be with her that day.

“So, it was totally humiliating—and 100% illegal— when they heard Boone’s staff complaining about the ‘black party’ and they were then kicked out and refused service,” the attorney said.

The complaint alleges that restaurant staff complained about serving Morris and her ethnically and racially diverse friends.

“Boone’s Fish House staff specifically complained about serving ‘the black party,’ meaning Ms. Morris and her racially diverse guests, told them the restaurant was not their ‘kind of place’ and encouraged them to go somewhere more their ‘crowd,’” the complaint alleges. “Morris and her guests were ultimately forced to leave.”

In addition to poor and slow service, Morris claims that the wait staff refused to cut and serve a birthday cake for her but did so for a white party in the restaurant at the same time. She also alleges that when guests complained of being served meals they did not order, the wait staff switched plates from which diners already had eaten rather than returning them to the kitchen and ordering new meals, which some diners requested.

Members of Morris’s group also were refused service at the “reverse happy hour,” which began at 10 p.m. at the upstairs bar, the complaint said. Restaurant staff claimed Morris and members of her party were intoxicated, which Morris denies in her complaint.

Morris claims she “has suffered and will continue to suffer damages, including, but not limited to, loss of self-confidence, frustration, humiliation, embarrassment, emotional pain and distress, inconvenience, loss of enjoyment of her life, injury to reputation.”

In addition to unspecified damages and legal fees, Morris is seeking an injunction ordering Boone’s owner to provide effective civil rights training for two years to all employees.

“I was so disappointed at how we were treated,” Morris said Thursday in a statement issued by her attorneys. “I hope this lawsuit will make restaurants like Boone’s Fish House understand that the law requires them to treat all patrons the same, no matter their race.”

 


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