Fired Annapolis inn manager sues legislator

Racism complaints ruined his reputation, suit says

April 09, 1999|By Laura Sullivan | Laura Sullivan,SUN STAFF

A manager fired from the Maryland Inn amid charges of racism has filed suit against the Maryland legislator he says ruined his reputation and got him fired.

Jeb Bello, 24, was fired March 10 for "rudeness to guests" after an incident in which Del. Melony Ghee Griffith, an African-American from Prince George's County, said she and her companion, a constituent, were denied service, treated badly and told to wait even though tables were open and a white couple was seated.

The incident galvanized many state legislators and Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who threatened to boycott the popular Annapolis restaurant if action wasn't taken.

In the suit filed yesterday in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court, Bello describes the events differently, alleging that Griffith was 30 minutes late for her reservation and was unwilling to wait a few minutes for a clean table.

The suit says she then "embarked on a publicity campaign designed to publicly portray Mr. Bello as a bigot and a racist," which has made him "unemployable in the city of Annapolis."

Bello is seeking $150,000 for lost employment and more than $3 million in punitive damages for "injuries to his reputation" and "mental and emotional anguish."

The suit comes three weeks after Griffith said she hoped to put the incident behind her.

Griffith referred questions to her lawyer, Anthony Martin, who said Griffith is "outraged" by the suit.

"She was victimized once by him insulting her in front of her constituent, and now he is victimizing her again," he said. "She is now going to have to go through the expense, time and grief of defending the suit. It appears Mr. Bello is looking to make money off of an incident that was of his own doing."

Martin said he does not think the suit can stand up in court, saying the Maryland Inn received Griffith's letter of complaint after deciding to fire Bello.

Managers at the Maryland Inn, who declined to elaborate last month, have said they fired Bello after an "internal investigation."

But in a letter to Griffith, the managers said Bello's "insensitivity was unacceptable" and that they were "quite disturbed" by the accounts of the incident.

Griffith said after the incident that Bello's demeanor changed from nasty to polite as he alternated between trying to seat her and trying to seat a white couple who came in after her. She said it was the second time Bello had treated her rudely at the restaurant.

Neither Bello nor his attorney returned phone calls.

Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden, vice chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus, which supported Griffith, said yesterday that Bello's suit was "ridiculous and shameful."

"Insensitivity and negative behavior have become vogue in our society in too many places," he said, "and when an individual who has been aggrieved becomes the subject of a legal action, it is totally unjustifiable. It is a perverse use of our legal system."

Pub Date: 4/09/99

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