DENVER — A Colorado woman claims a Denver Chili's racially discriminated against her family in April 2022 and has filed a civil rights lawsuit against the restaurant.
On April 30, 2022, Markesha Futrell-Smith said she, along with her husband and two children, went to the Chili's at 3625 South Monaco Parkway in Denver for dinner. Her children were six and nine years old at the time.
“Chili's is, was, my favorite place to dine. So I decided to go there with the family," said Futrell-Smith. “When we don't have time to cook or just to have a family night out, we'll go to Chili's because it's close."
She said her family was seated, but did not have a server come over for a drink order for around 10 minutes. They began to wonder why.
“Around that time. there were not really a lot of people in the restaurant. There were pretty much only maybe four or five other tables... So what's going on?” Futrell-Smith said. “Then the manager, who I later found out her name is Natasha, she comes over. And she's like, "It's been brought to my attention that you guys have walked out on your bill here twice." And there was a pause. So I was kind of just like, thought she was joking because, you know, like I said, I've talked to her numerous times. We go there frequently.”
Futrell-Smith said the manager then asked the family to pay upfront before dining at the restaurant.
“We come here often. I would never walk out of here," Futrell-Smith said. "It was embarrassing because my children were there. And then everyone in there was just watching. It was so quiet... I started to look around. I noticed, you know, we were literally the only Black people in the restaurant... We knew right then and there it was, had to be, because of our skin."
Futrell-Smith has filed a lawsuit against the restaurant claiming her family was "denied service based on their race."
"They [Chili's] were creating a situation where Markesha and her family were being treated as second-class citizens," said Spencer Kontnik, Futrell-Smith's attorney. “They were denied equal treatment based on the color of their skin, and that's unacceptable. And so [the restaurant] needs to be held accountable for creating rules that treat Markesha and her family differently than the white customers.”
A Chili's spokesperson sent Denver7 a statement in response to the lawsuit, which said, “We value all Chili’s Guests and are a welcoming restaurant that has served millions of Guests of all races without requiring prepayment. We do not tolerate discrimination of any kind. In this situation, Team Members at this location identified this Guest as having previously walked out on her check, leading to the request for prepayment.”
Futrell-Smith sees the situation very differently.
“It's sad to say that in America, just being Black sometimes is a crime in itself," said Futrell-Smith. “Since I've had my children, I feel myself, as a woman, have really changed my life around to be someone that they can look up to and idolize and respect. And so it just hurts when you're trying your best to live your life in such a great way for your children and to still be stigmatized in that way.”
Kontnik said the next step in the case is the discovery process. He said settling the case could be an option, but that he and his client would like to see what they consider to be accountability from Chili's.