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Black Deputy Says Diner|Made Him Pay Up Front

PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) - An Oregon sheriff's deputy sued Elmer's chain restaurant, claiming it made him pay for his breakfast in advance because he is black.

Brian Eason claims Elmer's Restaurants, a family-style diner with 25 restaurants in four states, made him pay first out of fear he would dine and dash.

Easton, a sheriff's deputy who also sells real estate, says he was "well and appropriately dressed" when he went to the Elmer's near Vancouver, Wash. for breakfast on Dec. 16 last year.

The restaurant is near Andresen Road, across the river from Portland. Eason says he went to the Andresen Elmer's "because it was not far from his realty office, and he wanted a quiet place to enjoy breakfast while writing out Christmas cards for his client list."

The complaint continues: "The waitress, a woman named Hope, took his order, but demanded that he prepay for his meal. The plaintiff asked why, and the waitress explained that she was acting on instructions from the owner, a woman later identified as [defendant Sandra] Lewis. The waitress apologized, acknowledging that the policy was racist but continuing to demand prepayment. The plaintiff prepaid as was demanded of him."

Eason says white customers in the restaurant that morning did not have to pay in advance. He says the insult made him lose sleep and suffer from "feelings of racial stigmatization." He seeks $100,000 in damages for discrimination in public accommodation.

Jill Ramos, Elmer's director of restaurant support, said in an email that the company was "actively looking into the details" but could not comment on pending litigation.

"We are disappointed to hear about the complaint which occurred at one of our franchise-operated restaurants," Ramos wrote.

Named as defendants are Elmer's Restaurants Inc., Elmer's Franchise Systems, the Vancouver franchise Karsan Inc., and its owner Sandra Lewis.

Eason is represented in Multnomah County Circuit Court by Mark McDougal, with Kafoury & McDougal, of Portland.

(Editors's note: In a statement issued after this story was posted and archived, the restaurant chain told Courthouse News that Eason filed a complaint with the Washington Human Rights Commission that was dismissed. Elmer's said that its policy was to make people in the lounge area, where Eason was, pay in advance due to dine-and-dashers. Customers in the restaurant receive regular checks. Elmer's said in the statement that some customers in the lounge that day were regular customers known to the waitress and did not have to comply with the policy of pre-paying.)

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