Three plaintiffs join discrimination lawsuit Four blacks say store denied access, service

November 25, 1998|By Scott Higham | Scott Higham,SUN STAFF

Clarification

An article in yesterday's Maryland section about a racial discrimination lawsuit omitted the information that plaintiff Glenn McNatt was admitted to J. Brown Jewelers on Charles Street Dec. 10, about five minutes after he was initially refused entry by an employee who told him the store was closed. McNatt and three others allege in a lawsuit that they were denied access to the jewelry store because of race.

Two men and a woman added their names to a federal discrimination suit yesterday, alleging that a Baltimore jewelry store barred them from the business or refused to show them jewelry because they are black.

The plaintiffs bring to four the number of blacks who are suing J. Brown Jewelers in U.S. District Court. In July, Glenn McNatt, a reporter for The Sun, filed suit, claiming he was denied access to the store at 318 N. Charles St. because of his race.

After he filed the suit, three others came forward to say that they, too, had been discriminated against. The suit alleges that the jeweler is "engaged in a pattern and practice" of discrimination against blacks.

"If you're a public facility, you need to let people in, regardless of race," said attorney Sharon A. Snyder, who is representing the plaintiffs with the American Civil Liberties Union. "This is something that needs to be addressed."

Jewelry store owner Frederick J. Brown declined to discuss the case yesterday.

"Mr. Brown vigorously denies the allegations," said his attorney, William H. Murphy Jr. "I have every confidence that this lawsuit will be resolved in Mr. Brown's favor. He will be vindicated."

The four plaintiffs are seeking an injunction against the store and requesting compensatory and punitive damages "in any amount that the jury may award."

McNatt said he went to the store in December to order a watchband. After being questioned by a security guard, he was admitted. A week later, he received a message from the store, telling him that the watchband was ready to be picked up.

During his lunch break Dec. 10, McNatt walked to the store and tried to open the door. It was locked. An employee refused to "buzz" McNatt in, telling him the store was closed and he needed an appointment, according to the suit.

As he walked away, McNatt stopped a white man, told him what had happened, and asked him to push the store's buzzer. The man, wearing nondescript street clothes, was buzzed in, the suit states. The man is a Roman Catholic priest, the Rev. Philip Snouffer, who is a key witness in the case.

Publicity surrounding the suit prompted the three others to contact lawyers and say they had similar experiences. Larry Henderson, who owns a small grocery store in Baltimore, said he wanted to buy a diamond ring for Vera Camilla Robinson, a

corrections officer. The two went to J. Brown Jewelers in June 1997.

The couple said workers refused to buzz them in. When they did gain entrance 15 minutes later, a saleswoman allegedly refused to show them jewelry in a case. "At the same time," the suit states, "they observed that the white saleswoman waiting on the white customer removed jewelry from the display case for the customer's examination."

The fourth person named in the complaint, James Christopher Redd, said he brought a Rolex watch to the store for an appraisal in October 1996. He said he was told the store was closed and that he needed an appointment -- even though white customers were being served inside.

"After being refused entry to the store on his third try," the suit says, "Mr. Redd left without ever being admitted to the store."

Pub Date: 11/25/98

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