A federal judge on Wednesday dismissed a racial discrimination lawsuit against the Atlas Restaurant Group, concluding there was no evidence the restaurant company “intentionally discriminated” against a woman and her son.

U.S. District Judge George Russell’s decision ends a lawsuit brought by Marcia Grant and her son, who claimed they were denied service at Ouzo Bay restaurant in Baltimore in 2020 because they were Black.

Atlas Restaurant Group denied the allegations, saying Grant’s son did not comply with the restaurant’s dress code because the boy was wearing “gym clothing,” which was prohibited by the eatery.

Russell found that, because the dress code was posted and available to the public, it wasn’t discriminatory. In his 20-page decision, Russell wrote that a press release issued by Atlas after the incident that said the “denial of service ‘should never have happened’” was a general apology for the customer service provided and not a suggestion that Grant and her son were denied for not meeting the dress code requirements.

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“Thus, Plaintiffs did not meet Atlas Group’s posted requirements to pay for and receive goods or services,” Russell wrote.

Grant, on behalf of her son, sued Atlas Restaurant Group in 2020, claiming racial discrimination and intentional infliction of emotional distress. They sought damages in excess of $75,000.

Grant’s law firm did not immediately respond to The Baltimore Banner’s request for comment, but Scott H. Marder, Atlas Restaurant Group’s attorney, called the case “frivolous.”

“The judge’s decision proves that, just because someone files a lawsuit saying terrible things doesn’t make those accusations true,” Marder added.

In 2020, Grant observed a white child of the same age as her son eating at Ouzo Bay dressed in the same attire: shorts, graphic T-shirt and tennis shoes, the ruling shows. This caused Grant to question the manager about why her son could not dine at the restaurant but the other one could.

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Documents show that Grant acknowledged seeing the posted dress code as she was exiting the restaurant but argued that the dress code is “vague.”

The ruling also says Grant’s son “did not meet the ordinary requirements to pay for and to receive goods or services ordinarily provided by Atlas Group,” adding that the white child’s shorts were khaki or chino Bermuda shorts that did meet the dress code requirements.

Atlas also argued that Grant’s son was wearing “mesh basketball shorts and [an] Air Jordan T-shirt,” which violated Ouzo Bay’s dress code. And no evidence showed that Atlas Group intentionally discriminated against Grant and her son because of their race.

Alex Smith, president & CEO of Atlas Restaurant Group, was pleased with Wednesday’s ruling.

“While incredibly unfortunate, we have long maintained the 2020 incident was purely a customer service issue and most certainly was not a case of discrimination or racial bias in any form, which was confirmed by the court today,” Smith said in a statement.

Complaints by former employees and past Black patrons at Atlas restaurants said this was not an isolated case at the restaurant group. They previously said it is part of a long-standing pattern of discrimination against African Americans, according to a previous Baltimore Sun article.

Penelope Blackwell is a Breaking News/Accountability reporter with The Banner. Previously, she covered local government in Durham, NC, for The News & Observer. She received her bachelor’s degree in journalism from Morgan State University and her master’s in journalism from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. 

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