Three black Michigan women who were harassed at a Denny’s by four white bikers have alleged that the manager at the diner tried to make them leave when they complained about the bikers’ use of racial slurs, the Lansing State Journal reported Thursday. According to the newspaper, the manager, who later called law enforcement on the women when they wouldn’t leave, defended the bikers’ use of slurs as protected free speech.
The incident occurred back in October but received little attention at the time. The women, Sasha Collins, 27, Jennifer McEwen, 25, and LaMaya McGuire, 22, say they had arrived at the Denny’s in Delta Township around 4 a.m. after a night out celebrating Collins’ birthday. The women say they had not been drinking and that they were quietly waiting on their food when the four bikers arrived.
According to the Journal, which noted that security footage backed up much of the women’s account, the harassment began when one man in a Blue Angels motorcycle club jacket began loudly using racial slurs to talk about the women. He told a waitress to “serve them [racial slur] some T-bones.” The waitress ignored the slur.
Collins then complained directly to the manager, a man named Patrick Fort. When she asked Fort to ask the bikers to leave, he allegedly responded, “No, I cannot ask them to leave. It’s a freedom of speech.” When Collins returned to her table, the manager followed her and, in earshot of the bikers, continued to lecture her about their free speech rights.
The women say they became worried that the manager’s actions put them at risk of confrontation with the bikers, and they became upset. Fort allegedly asked the women to leave. When they asked for their food to go, he refused and, when they wouldn’t leave, called law enforcement. McEwen said she tried to call law enforcement at the same time.
The conflict then escalated when a white woman, later identified as Alicia Barber, allegedly called McEwan a slur and a “bitch” and punched her. The two then got into a fight and were pulled apart. McEwen was later able to identify Barber online and report her, and Barber was arrested and charged with misdemeanor assault.
According to the Eaton County Sheriff’s Office’s report from the incident, Fort confirmed his actions that night and used the word colored to describe the women. “Patrick stated he cannot control what other people say and if they choose to use the ‘N’ word they are free to do so, but he does not allow swearing in his restaurant,” the report said. According to Denny’s, Fort no longer works for the restaurant chain.
According to the Journal, Denny’s responded to press inquiries by saying it had only recently heard about the incident. But when the reporter from the Journal pointed out that the women had been in contact with a Denny’s corporate attorney in the fall, Denny’s amended its response and said that shortly after the incident it had given the franchise owner’s contact information to the women’s lawyer, and that the corporation did not become more involved in the case until media reports of the incident surfaced in late June. A spokesman for Denny’s called Fort’s actions “completely unacceptable” and said there was “no excuse” for how the women were treated.
The three women said they didn’t hear from Denny’s until the media reports began, and they are asking for compensation and an apology from Denny’s, as well as more racial sensitivity training for employees. They filed a complaint with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, and, at the request of the women, the Lansing, Michigan, chapter of the NAACP is investigating the case.