A black man was awarded $10k in damages last month after an incident where a Toronto restaurant requested that he prepay for his meal, but did not enforce any such policy with non-black patrons.
The incident occurred in May 2014, USA Today reports, when Emile Wickham and three of his friends paid a visit to Hong Shing Chinese restaurant in Toronto, Ontario to celebrate Wickham’s 27th birthday. Upon being seated, the all-black friend group were told that they’d have to prepay for their meals, in accordance with restaurant policy. The group initially agreed, but Wickham had an inkling something was amiss and began questioning the other patrons to see if they’d been made to do the same.
“I still felt skeptical, so then I approached other tables,” Wickham explained to CNN. He soon found that no one else had been made to prepay. “There was frustration initially. And that frustration turned into a feeling of dejection and sadness.”
After the server admitted that Wickham’s group were the only patrons who’d been asked to prepay, Wickham and his friends asked for a refund, took their money, and left.
“When we got outside, that’s when the anger turned to sadness and dejection,” Wickham told CBC News. “We didn't eat anything after that, we didn't go anywhere.”
The incident stayed in Wickham’s mind and nearly a year later, he filed a complaint with the Human Rights Tribunal. In response to Wickham’s claim, the restaurant claimed that they’d begun asking any customers who were not regulars to prepay for their food, in an effort to cut down on “dine and dash” incidents. However, adjudicator Esi Codjoe said she found no evidence such a policy actually existed, CNN reports, and ruled in April that the restaurant had, in fact, racially profiled Wickham and his friends.
Codjoe ordered the restaurant to pay Wickham $10,000 Canadian dollars for the human rights code infringement, and for the injury to Wickham’s dignity, feelings, and self-respect.
Colin Li, the current owner and manager of the restaurant, said in a statement that the incident occurred when the restaurant was under different management, USA Today reports.
“The current owner and staff are dedicated to be a committed, inclusive, and responsible member of the community,” Li said.
Current management is appealing the tribunal’s decision, however, CNN reports.
“There are a number of sensitivities and considerations about this situation, and for that reason, the tribunal outcome is under appeal by legal representatives,” read a statement shared with CNN.
“At this time we cannot comment further, beyond emphasizing that the current owner and staff are dedicated to be a committed, inclusive and responsible member of the community.”
In response to the ruling, Wickham said that he’s grateful that he and his friends were “heard and believed.” He is willing to continue fighting to prove his case if needed, CNN reports.
“The average Canadian never calls themselves racist, but if a significant part of the population have legitimate stories of being discriminated against, this has to be seen beyond the scope of a restaurant claim,” Wickham said.
A similar situation occurred in Washington D.C. last month, after a group of 20 African American diners at Ming's Restaurant were asked by a server to pay for their food in advance. Some in the group asked other patrons if they were also asked to pay in advance, but, just as in Wickham's case, they were the only group to whom the policy applied. As a result, many of the diners left, though some stayed and agreed to prepay for their food.
Hai Shieh, the manager of the restaurant, told Fox 5 that they have no prepay policy.
“Ming's Restaurant would never, ever treat customers like that,” he said. “That’s one of the most important things. We would love to have customers always coming back and not having them to pay upfront. This is just unacceptable to me. I would definitely have a meeting and talk with all the servers just to give them a message not to let this happen ever.”
(Photo: Assorted Chinese food set arranged on a table. By thesomegirl, via Getty Images)