Bil Browning

McDonalds settles case with Indianapolis gay men denigrated in Louisville

Filed By Bil Browning | May 06, 2009 12:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Living

Nine months after an employee at a McDonald's restaurant in downtown Louisville called a group of gay customers a series of anti-gay slurs, the American Civil Liberties Union announced today that McDonald's has agreed to a cash settlement and diversity training for management at 30 of its Louisville-area restaurants.

Ryan Marlatt, Teddy Eggers, and three other friends had stopped for lunch at a McDonald's restaurant on East Market Street on July 26, 2008 while visiting Louisville for the weekend. While they waited for their food to be prepared, an employee behind the counter referred to them as "faggots" to another employee. When Marlatt and Eggers objected to the slur and asked to speak with a manager, the employee who had called them "faggots" started arguing with them, repeatedly calling them "faggots" in front of other customers and calling one of them a "cocksucker" and "bitch."

"The reason we made such a big deal out of this to begin with was because we didn't want it happening to anyone else, so I'm very glad McDonald's management is going to be having these trainings," said Eggers of Indianapolis, Indiana. "We were hurt and upset, but at least we're adults and can handle being called names. We hated thinking that this kind of harassment might also happen to someone young and vulnerable who would really take it to heart."

The supervisor on duty refused to refund the group's purchase, so Marlatt attempted several times in the following weeks to contact both the general manager of the McDonald's and the corporate offices, with no results. Louisville law prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, so the ACLU filed a complaint in September on behalf of Marlatt and Eggers with the Louisville Human Relations Commission. In October, representatives of a variety of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender groups as well as other civil rights organizations protested at the downtown Louisville McDonald's where the incident took place.

Although Marlatt and Eggers only asked for $28, McDonald's offered them $2000 each on its own, which they accepted, Sun said. The Louisville Human Relations Commission has been thoroughly investigating Eggers and Marlatt's complaint since it was filed last September and helped negotiate the settlement between the parties.

"We're really grateful to the Louisville Metro Human Relations Commission for its investigation, as well as to our friends at the Fairness Campaign, and commonGround at the University of Louisville, for keeping the pressure on McDonald's to do the right thing," said Michael Aldridge, Executive Director of the ACLU of Kentucky. "While we're fortunate to have a law banning sexual orientation discrimination in Louisville, this goes to show that it's still important to speak out and do something about it when your rights are violated."

"McDonald's could have saved itself a lot of embarrassment if they'd just done the right thing from the start and done something about this, but it's great that so many people stood up for us and came forward to say treating people the way we were treated is wrong," said Marlatt. "We just hope the trainings keep McDonald's from letting this happen to any of their customers from now on."

When their Louisville Human Relations Commission complaint was filed, Marlatt and Eggers asked for a refund of the money they spent on the McDonald's meal, and asked that one employee - the cashier who objected to the other employee's name-calling - be commended. "She was the only employee in the whole place who tried to help us," said Eggers. "I hope she hears about this and knows how much we appreciated her sticking up for us."

"While we wish Ryan, Teddy, and their friends hadn't had to go through this whole experience to begin with, we're glad that at least McDonald's is taking steps to prevent anything like this from happening again in the future," said Christine Sun, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Project who is representing Marlatt and Eggers. "Businesses should treat all of their customers with respect regardless of their sexual orientation."

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