Couple sues Chili’s after allegedly being asked to pay before eating

Dollita Okine January 11, 2024
The lawsuit points out that nobody else in the restaurant was compelled to pay in advance and that the only Black customers were members of Futrell-Smith's family. Photo: Black News

Markesha Futrell-Smith filed a federal complaint against a Denver Chili’s, alleging that the restaurant refused to serve her family unless they paid in advance.

Futrell-Smith said that none of the other diners who were not Black were required to pay in advance, and the restaurant manager accused her of failing to pay for meals in the past without providing any supporting evidence.

The lawsuit filed in late November 2023 says that on April 30, 2022, Futrell-Smith, her husband, and their two kids decided to celebrate her birthday at Chili’s, which was a regular location for Futrell-Smith at 3625 S. Monaco Parkway.

According to the lawsuit, they waited roughly 10 minutes after being taken to their seats before a manager arrived at their table and “demanded that Ms. Futrell-Smith provide a valid form of payment upfront prior to taking her order if she wished to dine at the restaurant.”

The lawsuit points out that nobody else in the restaurant was compelled to pay in advance and that the only Black customers were members of Futrell-Smith’s family. The manager then contended that Futrell-Smith had previously neglected to pay for meals, although he had no evidence to support this claim, the lawsuit says.

The suit notes that “Futrell-Smith was frustrated, angry, embarrassed, and humiliated in front of her family and the other patrons of the restaurant because of Chili’s false accusations.” 

The lawsuit does, however, indicate that Chili’s does not have a policy requiring prior payment from those accused of skipping meals in the past.

The mom asked a waiter who had served her several times before whether he had reported her for not paying her bills, and he affirmed that he had not and that she and her family were “frequent, loyal customers at Chili’s who always paid their bills,” according to the lawsuit.

The family eventually left the restaurant without ordering anything to eat. As they were leaving, a patron at the restaurant bar offered his “condolences for how unfairly” she was treated and offered to submit a corporate complaint about the situation.

The family says it wants the court to declare that the restaurant’s conduct mentioned in the lawsuit violates federal and state law, and it demands “compensatory damages to the maximum extent permitted by law.”

In addition, the suit seeks nominal damages, as well as economic, consequential, and punitive damages, as decided upon at trial, together with legal expenses and costs. 

In June, the Colorado Civil Rights Division issued a for-cause finding that Chili’s had violated a state discrimination law after Futrell-Smith filed a discrimination charge against the restaurant, according to The Denver Post.

The lawsuit alleges that “The incident has caused Ms. Futrell-Smith immense anxiety and fear that when she enters a store or restaurant, she will be falsely accused of shoplifting or thievery, solely due to her African American race.” 

“Futrell-Smith is genuinely fearful that similar discrimination will occur to her and her children in the future based on their African-American race.”

The lawsuit also states that Chili’s, as of the case’s filing, had not provided Futrell-Smith a “legitimate non-discriminatory reason” for the denial of service.

A spokesperson for Chili’s, Jake Young, acknowledged the lawsuit but said the company could not comment on pending litigation.

He said, “We value every Chili’s Guest and take the responsibility of fostering an inclusive environment for all very seriously. We do not condone or tolerate discrimination of any kind, as the safety and wellbeing of our Team Members and Guests is a top priority.”

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: January 11, 2024

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