Four transgender women and a gender-nonconforming individual are suing a Harlem location of fast-food chain Texas Chicken and Burgers — claiming that an employee discriminated against them based on their gender identities.
According to the complaint, plaintiffs Deja Smith, Jonovia Chase, Valerie Spencer, Jahmila Adderley, and Dee Marino visited the Texas Chicken and Burgers located at 2144 Frederick Douglass Blvd. at West 116th Street on May 27, and Marino tried to order chicken wings.
The complaint, in full below, alleges that the cashier initially ignored the group and then told them that there were no wings. When Smith tried to order chicken tenders, they were met with the same response, the complaint claims. Spencer then inquired about a fried fish special advertised in the shop’s window, and she claims she was again ignored by the cashier, according to the complaint. Spencer then asked if the employee was blatantly ignoring her to disrespect her, and he allegedly replied “yes.”
After the group stepped aside, the same employee accepted an order for nine chicken tenders from a white, cisgender male customer, the complaint claims. A video recorded by Smith on her cell phone, which was provided to Eater, shows the man confirming that he witnessed the group being refused service and that he received chicken tenders shortly after.
On May 29, Texas Chicken and Burgers posted a statement on Instagram that does not include an apology but suggests that the situation was caused by human error and not discrimination. The statement reads:
“While we regret that our customer did not receive the level of service we would expect from all employees regardless of the time of day or night in which service is provided, given the very early morning hour, large crowd and a variety of duties for which the employee was responsible, after a thorough and swift review of the situation, we are confident that the situation was caused by an honest mistake made by the employee when stating that particular food items were sold out, and not the product of any intentional discriminatory treatment as is portrayed in the video.”
The complaint references this statement and asserts that the video footage contradicts the restaurant’s claims. The group is accusing Texas Chicken and Burgers of violating the New York State Human Rights Law, which states that people cannot be refused “accommodations, advantages, facilities and privileges” on the basis of their sex.
Texas Chicken and Burgers did not immediately respond to request for further comment. According to the plaintiff’s co-counsel Gennaro Savastano, the restaurant chain has not issued further statements since the initial Instagram post.
The plaintiffs and their attorneys filed the complaint on August 9 and made an announcement about it that morning at the historic Stonewall Inn. The incident caused “serious harm, including psychological pain and suffering from an indecent and humiliating experience in a place of public accommodation,” the complaint claims.
Though the suit is filed in New York, Savastano is hoping that the chain will implement “meaningful” policies in multiple locations. He points to the recent example of the racist incident at a Starbucks in Philadelphia, which resulted in nationwide sensitivity training for all employees. “This case is really emblematic of the current climate where there has been an emboldening of bullying, an emboldening of a lack of respect and basic decency,” he says.
Texas and Burgers serves burgers with halal meat, fried chicken, and salads, and has about two dozen locations across New York City. It also has outposts in Philly and D.C.