A customer complained to the staff that a man was in the women’s restroom in the Greenwich Village restaurant Caliente Cab Co. Given the risk of multi-million dollar liability of failing to act in the face of a warning if a customer were assaulted by a man in the women’s restroom, a restaurant bouncer ejected Khadijah Farmer, Khadijah’s girlfriend, and a third in their dinner party.
Unfortunately for the restaurant, Khadijah Farmer was not a man, but an extraordinarily masculine-looking lesbian (who says she is mistaken for a man on a “daily basis”).
Further unfortunately for the restaurant, New York City has an unusual law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of “sexual stereotyping.” Further further unfortunately, Ms. Farmer wasn’t satisfied when the restaurant offered her a free meal in response to her complaint, and went straight for the lawyers. Further further further unfortunately, a top-tier law firm agreed to work the case “pro bono,” assigned three attorneys to it, and ran to the courthouse, even after the restaurant agreed to sensitivity training for its employees.
Let’s agree: the bouncer made a mistake and should have taken the opportunity to look at Farmer’s ID. Women shouldn’t be thrown out of women’s restrooms for looking like men, though one who looks as masculine as Farmer has to reasonably expect questioning unless we’re going to go the unisex bathroom route.
Damned if it does, damned if it doesn’t; up against a law firm using a bazooka to kill a mosquito; and in a neighborhood where being on good terms with the gay community is important for business relations, the restaurant, facing weekly pickets from the Queer Justice League, rolled over and settled for $35,000 + $15,000 in attorney’s fees, which will eventually be extracted from the restaurant’s clientele in the form of higher prices. (Jennifer 8. Lee, “Sexual Stereotypes, Civil Rights and a Suit About Both”, NY Times, Oct. 10; Jennifer 8. Lee, “Woman Wins a Settlement Over Her Bathroom Ouster“, NY Times, May 14; Andy Humm, “Calls to Boycott Caliente Cab Company”, Gay City News, Jul. 19).
I ate at the Caliente Cab Co. on Bleecker in the summer of 1988 when I lived on 12th and University; next time I’m inclined to eat there, I’ll let them throw me out of the restaurant for a fraction of what they paid Ms. Farmer. (Similarly: Gothamist commenters.)
The good news is that the legal problems of New York’s poor and non-profits have been so thoroughly resolved that a law firm can devote substantial pro bono resources to punitively harassing a small business over a bouncer’s not especially unreasonable misunderstanding, and has successfully trained a couple of young associates that they can file a lawsuit to extract tens of thousands of dollars over a $50 dispute. Do Morrison & Foerster’s clients know that this is the kind of litigation they’re subsidizing?
Previously on pro not-so-bono: October 2004.