With this weekend and today being recognized as the Juneteenth holiday, to the recent massacre of ten black people at a Tops grocery store in Buffalo last month, addressing racism and the hate and violence it causes must be a top priority for all Americans.
Unfortunately, it is not a priority for many. That appears to include the well-known Denny’s restaurant chain.
When an issue is a priority to a person or a company, the issue is usually addressed swiftly. But after a disturbing incident driven by racism in Denny’s Lansing location nearly four years ago, the company has yet to resolve the situation.
On October 14, 2018, three young black women went to Denny’s in Delta Township on Lansing’s west side. They went there to eat but instead were subjected racism, including racial slurs and physical violence.
When the young black women arrived and were seated, they placed an order, but their order was delayed. They inquired about their order and, strangely, were forced to re-order their food.
While waiting on their food, several members of the Blue Angels motorcycle gang entered the restaurant. Those patrons were seated at a table nearby the young black women. Soon after the motorcycle gang was seated, the young black women could hear them making racial comments.
The young black women made multiple requests to be able to sit in a different location of the restaurant because of the intentionally loud and threatening racial slurs that were being yelled from the motorcycle gang. The gang members even used racial slurs when talking to the waitress and asked the waitress if she was going to “serve these N***** some T-bone steaks.”
The young black women then asked again for different seating from the Denny’s manager. The Denny’s manager denied the request of the young black women to move to different and safer part of the restaurant. This resulted in the motorcycle gang members to use the word N***** more openly, including saying that they don’t like N******.
At this point, the young black women were shocked, offended, and fearful. When they confronted the waitress about the racial comments, the waitress responded by asking them how would they like their eggs prepared. The waitress did not address the young black women’s request for different seating away from the motorcycle gang members.
The young black women became more concerned with the escalation of the threatening racial slurs that were being used by the motorcycle gang members. Again, they asked the Denny’s manager to be moved to a different part of the restaurant away from the gang members.
The Denny’s manager refused to go to the table the young black women were at to address them regarding the fact that they still had not been served the food they ordered or the threats from the gang members.
Instead, the Denny’s manager told the young black women that the motorcycle gang members had the right to freedom of speech for their racist comments and that he “will not kick them out for talking.”
Unbelievably, the Denny’s manager took zero action to prevent further racist, threatening behavior and did not rectify the issue of the black women not being served the food they ordered. In fact, the Denny’s manager blamed the young black women telling them, “…It would be you starting sh** and I would have to ask you to leave.”
The Denny’s manager then chased one of the young black women back to the table where they’d been seated and told the young black women again that he wouldn’t remove the motorcycle gang members and that their speech was protected by freedom of speech.
The young black women then asked that their order be changed to a takeout order. The Denny’s manager then threatened to call the police on the young black women for their use of explicit language.
When the Denny’s manager wouldn’t provide the young black women with the food they ordered or protection from the motorcycle gang members, both the young black women and the Denny’s manager called the police.
One of the black women was talking to the police on the phone when a motorcycle gang member distracted her.
At that same time a female motorcycle gang member ambushed and physically assaulted one of the young black women violently hitting her in the head. The Denny’s manager who was on the phone with the police told the 911 operator that the assault initiated, “over someone using the N**** word.”
The racists gang members, including the female, left prior to law enforcement arriving at the restaurant. The female gang member was charged with assault and battery, but nothing related to racial or ethnic intimidation.
Denny’s has failed to take any action to resolve what occurred back in 2018 involving two of three young black women who were subjected to these actions.
The two young black women are seeking a money judgment, punitive, treble and exemplary damages, as well as attorney fees from Denny’s for the egregious and racist behaviors that they were subjected to while at Denny’s nearly four years ago.
But even more important than a financial judgment, the two young black women greatly desire to see change within the Denny’s culture, such as staff training regarding the proper handling of racial threats made to customers inside their restaurants.
Perhaps the best place to start would be for Denny’s restaurants to start living by their own policies. Denny’s Guiding Principles articulate a “Guests First” culture and that every Denny’s guest “must be treated with respect and dignity, and that Denny’s will not tolerate discrimination, harassment or any other form of disrespect towards guests.”
However, it is clear from the unresolved 2018 racial incident in Delta Township that what is written on paper is not reality— it’s just lip service. Denny’s must do more to prove it has taken racism off the menu.
Ayanna D. Neal joined Grewal Law PLLC as an attorney after dedicating fifteen years to representing the people of the state of Michigan in prosecution for Ingham County Prosecutor’s Office. Ayanna began practicing law two years prior to working as a prosecutor and handled child custody, contracts, and estate planning cases. Born and raised in Lansing, Michigan, Ayanna holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from the University of Michigan and Juris Doctor with a concentration in Business Transactions from Thomas M. Cooley Law School.