Suit against Pr. George's delegate settled

Former maitre d' sought damages after losing job

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 charges 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 that the suit brought by Jeb Bello had been resolved, but she added that publicity surrounding the incident "obscured some basic facts and portrayed people unfairly."

Anthony C. Epstein, Griffith's attorney, said Friday that his client's 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 a few minutes 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 said in her statement.

"I regret the negative effects of this publicity on Mr. Bello. Putting this matter to rest permits everyone involved to move ahead," she said.

Bello, who now works at a coffee shop, sought $150,000 for lost employment and more than $3 million in punitive damages for "injuries to his reputation" and "mental and emotional anguish."

Bello said that Friday he "thought everything was fine" regarding the settlement. But after reading comments by Griffith in an article in the Washington Post yesterday, he said he was unsure what to think.

"She retracted her apology," he said.

Bello said he planned to discuss the situation with his attorney, who was unavailable yesterday for comment.

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