SPOKANE—The federal government is suing a restaurant in Ellensburg after a Black employee contended she was refused a better-paying job because she is a Muslim and because the owner wanted only "hot, White girls" to be cocktail servers.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed the lawsuit Wednesday in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington.
The lawsuit contends the owner of the Starlight Lounge failed to promote waitress Angela Harper to a cocktail server position because of race and religion.
"I was shocked to realize that I would never be promoted because of my race and religion," Harper said in a news release from the EEOC.
Harper, who wears a headscarf in observance of her Muslim faith, sought the more lucrative cocktail server position, but the owner said she was looking only for "hot, White girls" to be cocktail servers, the EEOC said.
Restaurant owner Doris Morgan denied making the comment, saying it was made to Harper by a disgruntled former manager of the restaurant who no longer works there.
"The Starlight Lounge is a nice, upscale restaurant and lounge," Morgan said in a telephone interview. "It is the most diverse, tolerant business in Ellensburg. We have always hired people of all races and genders."
Morgan said Harper was originally hired as a janitor, then became a dishwasher and finally a waitress during her two years working at the restaurant.
"She was not a good server," Morgan said. "We kept trying to make it work for her."
Harper quit about a year ago, Morgan said.
The Starlight is located downtown in this college town of about 12,000 people.
Morgan has owned the restaurant for about four years, and said she is saddened by the lawsuit.
"I treated her like a daughter," Morgan said of Harper.
Racial and religious discrimination are violations of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the EEOC said. The agency filed the lawsuit only after first attempting to reach a settlement with Morgan.
The lawsuit seeks monetary damages, training on anti-discrimination laws, posting of notices at the work site and
"It is disturbing to know that in today's workplace, there are still those employers who place more value on people's skin color or religion than in their capacity as loyal and hardworking employees," said Joan Ehrlich, district director of the EEOC in San Francisco.
"Ms. Harper was well-liked by customers and was a good performer," said her EEOC attorney, William Tamayo. "Not only did the Starlight Lounge lose an excellent employee by pushing her out, it also opened itself up to litigation by breaking the law."
— The Associated Press