HAMMOND | Twenty-seven people are suing the T.G.I. Friday's restaurant in Merrillville, claiming they were denied the ability to eat there because they are black, according to federal court complaint filed Tuesday.
The group, which included nine adults and 18 teens, planned to eat at the restaurant on June 1, 2012, after an eighth-grade dance at Thea Bowman Leadership Academy in Gary, court records state.
According to the complaint, filed in Hammond federal court, the teens entered the restaurant while their parents and chaperones parked the cars. A hostess, who was white, told the teens they couldn't eat there without guardians.
T.G.I. Friday's had a corporate policy posted on the door that required patrons under 21 to come with a parent or guardian after 9 p.m., the lawsuit acknowledges.
So the teens waited for the adults to join them, their complaint states. When they did, the hostess still refused to seat the group, and the adults and teens left believing that they were turned away because they are black, court records state.
The group sued in federal court, arguing they were discriminating against on the basis of race. They are seeking damages to compensate them for their embarrassment and emotional distress, according to the complaint.
A T.G.I. Friday's spokesperson said the company cannot get into the specific allegations made in the lawsuit but noted they are "looking forward" to having the facts in the case reviewed in court.
"More than two years ago and at the request of the local police department, we implemented a policy in our Merrillville, Ind. restaurant that requires any underage guest entering the restaurant after 9 p.m. to be accompanied by a parent or guardian," the spokesperson said in a written statement. "This is strictly an age-based policy that is applied consistently and fairly with all of our guests. In fact, we regularly have underage guests in our restaurant after 9 p.m. with a parent or guardian."