Suit against Md. delegate Griffith settled

Former maitre d' sought damages after his firing

January 21, 2001|By Johnathon E. Briggs | Johnathon E. Briggs,SUN STAFF

A $3.1 million lawsuit brought by a former Annapolis restaurant manager fired amid allegations that he refused to serve an African-American state delegate has been settled.

In a brief statement, Del. Melony Ghee Griffith said she was pleased the suit brought by Jeb Bello had been resolved, but added that publicity surrounding the incident "obscured some basic facts and portrayed people unfairly."

Anthony C. Epstein, Griffith's attorney, said Friday that her statement "was not an apology" and that Bello did not win any money from her. Noting a confidentiality clause, lawyers did not disclose terms of the settlement.

Bello, who is white, was fired from his job as maitre d' of the Maryland Inn's Treaty of Paris Restaurant in March 1999 for "rudeness to guests" after an incident in which Griffith, a Prince George's County Democrat, 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.

In his suit, Bello, 26, contended that Griffith was 30 minutes late for her reservation and was unwilling to wait for a clean table. Bello has said he isn't a racist and did not mean to offend Griffith.

"I have never accused Mr. Bello of engaging in racial discrimination, nor did I ever intend to imply that his conduct was in fact racially motivated, and Mr. Bello has assured me that the incident had nothing to do with race," Griffith stated. "I regret the negative effects of this publicity on Mr. Bello. Putting this matter to rest permits everyone involved to move ahead."

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

After reading comments by Griffith in an article in the Washington Post yesterday, Bello said he was unsure what to think. "She retracted her apology," he said.

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