Darden-owned restaurant calls police on black sorority in bill dispute

Last Updated Jun 21, 2018 2:42 PM EDT

A Bahama Breeze Island Grille in Cleveland faces claims of racial profiling after police were called during a gathering of African-American women at the Caribbean-themed eatery owned by Darden Restaurants.

Chante Spencer, among some 40 members of Delta Sigma Theta at the restaurant, told Cleveland.com the problems started when one woman frustrated with waiting for her bill for 25 minutes said she was going to leave. A restaurant employee called police even as the woman waited and paid her tab because the manager wanted officers to be there to ensure other members of the gathering covered their bills, Spencer told the local media outlet on Wednesday.

The sorority gathering included a doctor, a judge, educators and other professionals who became upset because they believed the manager targeted them because of their skin color, Spencer said of the incident Tuesday night. "Police were standing there to make sure everyone paid, which we felt was racial profiling," she told Cleveland.com, saying she was speaking as a patron not on behalf of the sorority. 

The police report states that all bills were paid and that a member of the group told police when they arrived that she would make sure the tabs were covered, according to Cleveland.com. Police did not make any arrests but remained at the restaurant about one hour.

Darden in 2009 agreed to pay $1.26 million to settle racial harassment claims by 37 black workers at another Bahama Breeze location in Cleveland, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

"We clearly fell short of delivering great service to our guests. The manager involved no longer works for us because they mistreated a guest, which is inconsistent with our values," a Darden spokesperson said in an emailed statement to CBS MoneyWatch. "We have spoken with several members of the party to personally apologize and invite them back."

The Florida company runs more than 1,700 restaurants across the country under brands including Olive Garden, Longhorn Steakhouse and Capital Grille.

Bias in how customers are treated has come into play in a series of recent incidents in which police were called, including the controversial arrest of an African American man at a Waffle House last month in North Carolina and police called on a black man trying to return a purchase to an Alabama Hobby Lobby.

After one of the higher-profile incidents, Starbucks recently closed its 8,000 stores for an afternoon of anti-racial bias training for its baristas after two black men were arrested in a Philadelphia Starbucks and a partial video of the April incident went viral.