AURORA, Ill. (AP) – A lawyer representing a group of black clients who say they were asked to change tables at a Buffalo Wild Wings in Chicago area because of their skin color, urged the restaurant chain on Tuesday to make wholesale changes to avoid a lawsuit on discrimination.
Some children attending the birthday party on Oct. 26 in Naperville broke down crying during a news conference. Two of the adult participants in the party described what happened, and attorney Cannon Lambert released a list of hiring and training requirements for the company.
Justin Vahl, one of the adults at the child's party, remembered walking into the restaurant with a group of nearly 20 people – some as young as 5 years old ̵
"I was horrified," Vahl said.
Vahl and Marcus Riley, another adult who attended the party, said that the group still sat near the customer who filed the complaint. One manager went over to apologize to the group, but another later said that the party had to move to another table because it was reserved.
Riley said he called her mother that day while leaving the restaurant and began to cry when he told her about the incident. Both he and Vahl said they struggled to explain to the children what had happened.
"Now I got to explain (to the kids) what it is to be a black man," Riley said.
As they left, Vahl and Riley said they saw other embarrassed employees, one of whom was crying and another giving them a phone number to call and report what happened.
After last month's event, the franchise announced that the two employees in question had been fired and others would undergo sensitivity training. It said the customer whose complaint started the controversy would be banned for life at the chain's more than 1,200 restaurants.
Lambert questioned how the company would enforce it. He also demanded that it thoroughly interrogate potential employees to make sure they know how to handle "racist situations" properly before hiring and create a hotline for all employees who witness such an incident in the future. He said the company's ongoing sensitivity training should include some of the customers who faced discrimination in Naperville.
"They can show other business participants what it is like to stand up to racism," Lambert said. "There is no need to bring legal action if there is no disagreement" by the company.
Naperville, a community of around 150,000 people, is about 70% white and 18% Asian, with blacks and Hispanics each accounting for about 5% of the population.
The incident comes just months after a clerk at a Naperville gas station was fired when he was videotaped telling Latin American customers that they "must return to their country."
Andre Howell, vice president of operations by the Multicultural Foodservice & Hospitality Alliance, a national group affiliated with the National Restaurant Association, said that the number of reports of similar incidents has increased significantly in recent years.
"Customers feel encouraged to share what has otherwise been masked or not talked about," he said.