Police: No indication restaurant staff heard racial comment

CHICAGO (AP) — Police looking into an incident at a Chicago-area Buffalo Wild Wings found no indication that workers heard a white patron mention the race of a group of black customers when he asked that they not be seated next to him, but investigators said the employees had heard him make racist comments before.

In a report first obtained by the (Arlington Heights) Daily Herald, Naperville police said the workers not only knew about the customer’s racist views, but one manager told police that he learned from employees after the Oct. 26 incident that the man had even sent food back to the kitchen if it was not delivered to him by a “Caucasian employee.”

Police said the man and a woman seated with him denied saying anything racist the day of the incident, though they acknowledged the man had made racist jokes in the past.

According to the report, the group was already seated when a server and a greeter told them that the man and woman “did not want to sit next to them because the couple was racist.” That prompted the group of 18 customers to leave the restaurant and one of them to post about the incident on social media, sparking widespread attention.

The franchise announced after the incident that the two employees in question had been fired and others would undergo sensitivity training. And it said the white customer who made the seating request would be banned for life at the chain’s more than 1,200 restaurants.

An attorney representing the black customers, who say they were asked to change tables before they decided to leave, urged the restaurant last week to make wholesale changes to avoid a discrimination lawsuit. The lawyer, Cannon Lambert, said the chain should change the way it hires and trains workers to prevent such incidents from happening again and set up a hotline for employees to report racial bias. Some of the customers told to move to different tables were children who were there to celebrate a birthday.

Police said they found no evidence of a crime but that the employees had good reason to think race was behind the customer’s seating request given his past comments about race. A detective wrote that a manager said workers had never reported the customer’s past comments to him or incidents in which he allegedly sent food back if an employee who wasn’t white brought it to him.

Lambert told The Associated Press on Thursday that he doesn’t believe management knew nothing about the white customer’s past comments and behavior when it’s clear that workers did.

“All this report does is confirm what my clients have said all along, that management at that store was well aware and, in fact, fostered and supported the bigoted culture that existed in that store,” Lambert said. “That’s what we want fixed.”

Naperville, a suburb of about 150,000 people, is approximately 70% white and 18% Asian, with black and Hispanics each making up about 5% of the population.

In the police report, the white customer acknowledged to investigators that employees had heard him make racist jokes before, but he denied making any racist comments that day. Police did not include the man’s name in the report.

He and the woman with him also told police that they did not ask if the larger group could be seated elsewhere since the dining room was mostly empty and there was not much room around them, as a restaurant manager claimed they did.

Instead, the two maintained that they never asked any employee to move the group, only that they themselves moved their own table a bit to allow servers to get by.

The man told police that workers “took it upon themselves” to tell the group they needed to move after hearing him make racist jokes and comments in the past. A restaurant employee agreed, according to police, and said staff caused “most of the drama.”

Copyright © 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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