Carroll filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday against the Tavern at Phipps, alleging he and a friend, who are black, were asked to leave the restaurant’s bar because they refused to give up their seats to two white women.
“I was shocked that it ever happened,” said Carroll, 50, now an investment adviser. “But since I’ve gotten over the shock, I’ve felt I have a responsibility to promote some conversation, some discussion about this.”
A former Purdue University star, Carroll was the top pick in the 1980 NBA draft. He moved to Atlanta in 1991 after a 10-year career in which he averaged 17.7 points a game.
Greg Greenbaum, who owns the 17-year-old Phipps Plaza restaurant, disagreed with Carroll’s assertions.
“I don’t feel we’ve done anything wrong,” Greenbaum said Wednesday. “We don’t discriminate.”
Carroll and attorney Joseph Shaw went to the Tavern after work Aug. 11, 2006. They sat at the bar and ordered drinks and food.
A short time later, a bartender asked them to give up their seats for two white women. There were “several white males” also at the bar, but none of them was asked to move, the suit says.
Carroll and Shaw politely declined, but the bartender told them it was the Tavern’s custom for men to give up their seats at the bar to women, the suit says. Carroll and Shaw were then told repeatedly by two other Tavern employees to give up their seats, while none of the white men at the bar was asked to do so, the suit says.
Carroll and Shaw, saying they wanted to finish their meal, still declined to leave their seats at the bar. So the Tavern management called a security guard who escorted the two men out of the restaurant, the suit says.
Carroll and Shaw soon filed a complaint before the city of Atlanta’s Human Relations Commission.
After a hearing, the panel found the Tavern discriminated against the men on the basis of their gender “and, arguably, their race.”
“In light of the long racial history between black and white, the commission can’t help but to wince at the notion of expressly sanctioning a practice that would have the effect of requiring an African-American to relinquish his or her seat to a Caucasian patron,” its Oct. 10, 2007, ruling said. It added that “race was a factor in the escalation of the situation.”
Greenbaum said Wednesday that Carroll and Shaw were not targeted because they were African-American. “But we may be more preferential to women,” he said.
“We’re all Southern gentlemen,” Greenbaum said. “It creates a nice social environment when gentlemen give up their seats at the bar. That’s the way we like to do business. It’s a courtesy to our female guests.”
Shaw, a criminal defense attorney, said Wednesday he plans to file his own suit.
Carroll, represented by lawyers Gerry Weber and Hollie Manheimer, seeks unspecified damages and a court order ensuring free and unfettered access at the bar, without regard to race or gender. Carroll said he will donate any jury award to charity.
“This was absolutely different from simply asking us to give up our seats for some ladies,” he said. “This is the kind of not-so-subtle discrimination that happens too often.”