Pro Football Hall-of-Famer files discrimination lawsuit against Detroit Pizza Restaurant
Lem Barney, who spent 10 Hall of Fame seasons with the Detroit Lions and is an icon in Detroit sports, is suing a local pizza chain, claiming he and his wife were discriminated against and told to go to a location in a majority Black area.
According to the Detroit News, the lawsuit was filed against Happy’s Pizza on Monday in Detroit’s Federal Court by Lem and his wife Jacqueline.
When they arrived at Happy’s Pizza on on Nov. 2, the couple tried to order but the suit alleges the manager told them to go to Happy’s Southfield location because “they would be more at home there.”
Southfield is a majority-black suburb bordering Detroit, while Commerce is mostly white.
“It was a thinly veiled message that they are not wanted,” Jim Acho, the Barneys’ lawyer, told the Detroit News. “Their excuse doesn’t fly.”
Happy’s Pizza, whose corporate offices are in Farmington Hills, Mich., claims that the Barneys were turned away not because of their race, but because the location was remodeling. They said that the restaurant was not slated to reopen until Nov. 6 and that the site was holding a soft opening for friends and family of employees and those from the corporate office.
The lawsuit claims the Barneys called police and when the officer arrived, the restaurant manager said the Barneys were denied service because workers were preparing for a corporate catering event.
According to the lawsuit, the officer told the couple that he believed they “were refused service solely on the basis of race.”
“Happy’s Pizza does not discriminate against or refuse service to patrons under any circumstances on the basis of race, gender or religion,” Sherrie Handrinos, a corporate spokeswoman for Happy’s, said. “We are deeply saddened by Mr. and Mrs. Barney’s accusations of racial discrimination. We take these accusations very seriously and will do everything in our power to clear up the confusion surrounding them.”
Handrinos said the manager spoke with police on the phone. The doors were open as employees and contractors went in and out of the building, doing food and equipment testing and preparing the store for opening. She also said that about 30 patrons entered the store on Nov. 2 and released a photo of the store’s sales activity system, which she said showed the first sales for the store begin on Nov. 6.
“No one was a customer,” Handrinos said. “No one was purchasing food. Not one sale was made that day to anyone.” She also said that customers were directed to the nearby locations in Farmington Hills and Pontiac, but not Southfield.
The Barney’s lawyer isn’t buying the story and claims that the restaurant was open for white customers.