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Lesbian recovers $25,000 from New York restaurant after a homophobic attack

Hate Crimes

By Scottie Thomaston

In 2010, a customer at a Sizzler restaurant in Queens, New York was brutally attacked for being gender non-conforming and a lesbian:

On September 18, 2010, Liza Friedlander and two friends went to a Sizzler restaurant in Forest Hills, Queens for the breakfast buffet.

After paying, Friedlander served herself from the buffet. As Friedlander was walking back toward her table to join her companions, a Sizzler manager aggressively approached her. In front of other restaurant patrons, the manager began yelling at Friedlander, accusing her of not paying for the breakfast buffet. He violently shoved Friedlander in the chest, causing her to fall backward, and kicked her in the legs while yelling for her to get out of the Sizzler and calling her a “fucking dyke.”

The Sizzler dining room quickly devolved into a threatening scene when patrons began terrorizing Ms. Friedlander, with Sizzler patrons screaming at her, spewing homophobic and hate-filled epithets.

A male diner began yelling at Friedlander, calling her a “he-she freak” and demanding that she leave the restaurant. Another man threatened to take Ms. Friedlander outside and sexually assault her, threatening that he would show her “what a dick is.” The man then threw objects at Friedlander. Finally, after police arrived, a battered Friedlander was taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital.

Lambda Legal filed a lawsuit against the restaurant alleging discrimination. The complaint alleged violations of the new (at the time) law protecting LGBT people from bias crimes, saying the attacks:

violated the New York City and State Civil and Human Rights Laws because Friedlander was violently attacked and discriminated against based on her actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, and sex in a place of public accommodation.

Lambda’s client recently was awarded $25,000 from the restaurant in the case after a judgment was issued. From a Lambda Legal press release, via Pam Spaulding:

Lambda Legal client Liza Friedlander, who was violently attacked while trying to dine with friends at a Forest Hills restaurant owned by Defendant Waroge Met, Ltd., doing business as Sizzler Restaurant 0489, recently recovered $25,000 in a lawsuit filed in Queens County in 2011. The court entered a judgment against the defendant Sizzler Restaurant 0489 and its manager, defendant Edgar Orellana, after those defendants offered to allow judgment to be taken against them.

“Liza Friedlander experienced violence, discrimination, and degradation at this restaurant because she did not conform to the stereotypes of how a woman should look. This intolerable behavior is prohibited under the New York State and City human rights laws,” said Natalie Chin, Staff Attorney for Lambda Legal. “The result sends a strong message: violent and discriminatory behavior motivated by bias against lesbians, gay men, bisexuals or transgender people will not be tolerated. Businesses are not exempt from treating LGBT people with dignity and respect.”

Under New York case law, there is “no distinction” between a “judgment on consent,” entered against defendants here, “and a judgment rendered after trial and entered upon a verdict or a decision.”

“I was attacked and threatened by people yelling terrible anti-LGBT slurs, throwing things at me and threatening to sexually assault me,” said Lambda Legal client Liza Friedlander. “On that day, I felt helpless, humiliated and frightened, but today I’m so proud that I stood up and did something about it. No one should have to go through a nightmare like that.”

This was the first case testing the new law.

20 Comments

  • 1. Gregory in SLC  |  June 13, 2012 at 10:23 am

    Amazing story! Glad to hear! We will NOT be intimidated or put down any longer!

  • 2. Lesbians Love Boies  |  June 13, 2012 at 10:26 am

    I would never believe this as a story line in a book – yet seeing it happened in real life is appalling. How do these H8ters sleep at night?

    I am glad she is okay – but horrified that this happened in the first place.

  • 3. michael  |  June 13, 2012 at 10:35 am

    I'm just in absolute shock that something like *this* happened in New York City. The population and diversity is so concentrated, you don't often find a huge group of mob-mentality H8'ers in a common place like that. The fact that nobody stood up for her is mind-boggling. I want to believe this story is an exaggeration… but I suppose any of us could find ourselves in a situation like this. =( Very sad, but I'm glad folks were held accountable.

  • 4. RightthingtodoTX  |  June 13, 2012 at 10:37 am

    Is that what human dignity is worth these days? $25k?

    The correct award should have a few extra zeroes at the end and i don't mean after the decimal point.

    Not to mention the manager should lose his job and the Sizzler in question should be forced to donate its profits to Lamda Legal or other LGBT support group. And it should be forced to hang a rainbow flag outside its building as a welcome message to potential LGBT patrons. And it should have a regular discount for LGBT patrons. I'm sure people smarter and more sober can think of something else.

  • 5. Alyson  |  June 13, 2012 at 10:56 am

    Did that manager retain his job? What about other patrons that joined in? Any consequences? I can't believe a restaurant full of people actually piled on instead of defending her or at least staying uncomfortably out of it. Shit!

  • 6. sfbob  |  June 13, 2012 at 11:03 am

    Not only tough to believe it happened in New York City…it's even tougher to imagine it happened in Forest Hills. The Forest Hills-Kew Gardens area is (or was when I lived in Queens) one of the more gay-friendly neighborhoods outside of Manhattan and Park Slope Brooklyn. On top of that, Forest Hills is an upper middle class neighborhood, full of attractive homes and apartment buildings. It's most definitely not the sort of place you'd expect such vile behavior.

  • 7. sfbob  |  June 13, 2012 at 11:05 am

    I agree with you Alyson. Anyone exhibiting such unprofessional behavior ought to have been terminated ON THE SPOT. And as for the patrons, they (and the manager) should have been arrested on assault charges and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

  • 8. NancyH  |  June 13, 2012 at 11:14 am

    $25,000 is pathetic. Did the guy who threaten to sexually assault her get arrested and put on the sex offender registry?

  • 9. BradK  |  June 13, 2012 at 11:57 am

    $25K is chump change. Ms. Friedlander should be holding title to that dump and the so-called manager should be someone's cell bitch in Rikers.

    Did the Sizzler's corporate office ever issue a statement on the incident?

  • 10. Martin Pal  |  June 13, 2012 at 12:24 pm

    "And it should be forced to hang a rainbow flag outside its building as a welcome message to potential LGBT patrons."

    I like this idea–a constant reminder/symbol.

  • 11. Gregory in SLC  |  June 13, 2012 at 12:55 pm

    or some variation of this:
    http://www.wkyt.com/home/headlines/93155454.html

  • 12. Regan DuC.  |  June 13, 2012 at 2:08 pm

    My cousin had a similar experience at a Wal-Mart in the Crenshaw District in Los Angeles, CA. She's lesbian and typically wears cargo shorts and sometimes tank tops. She wears her hair very short. She was accompanied by her nephew, at the time 18. He has juvenile diabetes and an open wound in his throat, similar to a stoma.
    Two women started saying derogatory things and threatening my cousin who worried she'd be followed to the parking lot. Two large men came up and forced my cousin and nephew to the floor of the store as if under they were under arrest. The men never identified themselves and didn't wear any uniforms. It turned out they were store security. The accost on them, made the nephew's wound start to bleed. My cousin, because she didn't know what these men were, was scared out of her wits that a mob was starting on her.
    Wal-Mart eventually did have to pay damages to her. One, for these security not intervening when those other WOMEN were threatening her, and further for injuring her nephew and arresting them for absolutely NO reason.

    I kinda wish one of those women had tried something. My cousin was middleweight women's boxing champion for ten years and she plays women's professional football.
    She tends to restrain herself because she could land a good blow on someone and break their face.
    But she was outnumbered, unfortunately and the situation devolved.
    It's always the gay folks that are suspected and guilty, no matter what they happen to be doing when THEY are the ones attacked.
    It's also something black folks know all too well too.

  • 13. Carpool Cookie  |  June 13, 2012 at 2:43 pm

    "I'm just in absolute shock that something like *this* happened in New York City. "

    Didn't it happen in Queens?

    My tough-talking female friend used to say, "Look, I'm from Queens. Where the men are men, and the women…are men."

  • 14. BradK  |  June 13, 2012 at 2:55 pm

    Unfortunately, in the litigious state of CA, if your friend had managed to land a blow or two it likely would have been her that was paying damages. Or convicted of assault.

    That's a horrible story nonetheless. And yet another reason to never set foot in a WalMart (just as the OP offers the same warning for Sizzler).

  • 15. Chris in Lathrop  |  June 13, 2012 at 3:46 pm

    What a society we live in when actual deliberate violence against a person is worth $25,000 while a mistake with a coffee lid is worth nearly $3M. I'm glad she won her case, but the penalty was barely a slap on the wrist. As other posters have asked, what of the manager and other patrons who committed this crime?

  • 16. JoeRH  |  June 14, 2012 at 10:15 am

    What a pathetic settlement. Should have been at least six figures. That place should be put out of business, the manager put in prison for assault, and if there are security cameras, identify the other patrons that got in on the attack and throw their inhuman asses in prison as well. Just Disgusting. I hope that place goes out of business, the owner's house is burned down/he's beaten/or both, and anyone who was identified from participating has their ass kicked so hard that their parents feel it, even if their parents are deceased.

  • 17. Tony  |  June 14, 2012 at 10:37 am

    Were there any criminal prosecutions for assault/battery against the manager and the customers who joined in the attack?

  • 18. Eric  |  June 18, 2012 at 12:23 pm

    It wasn't a mistake. After repeated scaldings (McDonalds intentially sold their coffee above 140F) and no change in practice, nor scalding warnings, McDonalds' business practices resulted in second degree burns to a customer.

  • 19. Chris in Lathrop  |  June 19, 2012 at 8:08 pm

    In fact, there were warnings on the coffee cups; the jury decided they were too small. Repeated scaldings were not a factor in the Liebeck trial. And Liebeck actually suffered third-degree burns. The fact of the matter was Liebeck's decision to place the cup between her legs to add cream and sugar, and Liebeck herself, despite the permissive jury, was ruled 20% at fault in the incident.

    In a similar lawsuit in the UK, Bogle v. McDonald’s Restaurants Ltd., "Field, J. rejected the claim that McDonald's could have avoided injury by serving coffee at a lower temperature.

    "If this submission be right, McDonald's should not have served drinks at any temperature which would have caused a bad scalding injury. The evidence is that tea or coffee served at a temperature of 65 °C will cause a deep thickness burn if it is in contact with the skin for just two seconds. Thus, if McDonald’s were going to avoid the risk of injury by a deep thickness burn they would have had to have served tea and coffee at between 55 °C and 60 °C. But tea ought to be brewed with boiling water if it is to give its best flavour and coffee ought to be brewed at between 85 °C and 95 °C. Further, people generally like to allow a hot drink to cool to the temperature they prefer. Accordingly, I have no doubt that tea and coffee served at between 55 °C and 60 °C would not have been acceptable to McDonald's customers. Indeed, on the evidence, I find that the public want to be able to buy tea and coffee served hot, that is to say at a temperature of at least 65 °C, even though they know (as I think they must be taken to do for the purposes of answering issues (1) and (2)) that there is a risk of a scalding injury if the drink is spilled.

    My point seems to have, perhaps, gone over your head. Also, you should do more research when refuting a claim.

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