A D.C. man has filed a lawsuit and a separate complaint with the D.C. Office of Human Rights accusing a manager at the newly opened restaurant Bidwell of firing him from his job as a waiter because he’s gay.
Jacques Chevalier, 22, says in the lawsuit filed Jan. 14 in D.C. Superior Court that manager Scott Wood fired him the day before the restaurant’s grand opening on Jan. 9, telling him he was not a “good fit” for the company.
Bidwell is the newest food-related business to open at the Union Market in Northeast D.C. near Gallaudet University. Nationally acclaimed chef John Mooney, who specializes in preparing dishes made from fresh, organic produce, is a principal owner of the restaurant.
When approached by the Blade at the restaurant on Tuesday, Wood said he would have no comment on Chevalier’s allegations.
Chevalier filed his lawsuit jointly with Cherokee Harris, who charges in the lawsuit that Wood fired her from her job as a server assistant because she’s black.
Court records show that Chevalier and Harris are representing themselves without an attorney. Chevalier said he has contacted the gay litigation group Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund for legal help. He said a Lambda representative told him the group was considering taking his case and would inform him of its decision soon.
According to Chevalier, Wood hired him in late December after he responded to a help-wanted ad that the restaurant posted online. He said he never discussed his sexual orientation with Wood and Wood never raised the issue with him.
“Scott Wood most likely found out I was gay because of the handbags I brought to work,” Chevalier told the Blade. “That would be the way I would think he came to that conclusion. Heterosexual men don’t carry the bags that I carry.”
But he said it’s also possible that Wood learned of his sexual orientation in some other way.
Although the restaurant didn’t open officially until Jan. 9, Chevalier said the kitchen staff and servers were assigned to work as if it had opened during a trial period of about two weeks prior to the official opening when they waited on guests who ordered food.
He said he suspected something was wrong when he wasn’t chosen to attend special events the restaurant held “and when special guests came I was ignored or not introduced,” the said in the lawsuit.
“Scott Wood gave me funny looks. We were not trained properly like the other employees,” he said of himself and Harris. “The day after our firing we were replaced by Caucasians.”
Chevalier told the Blade that Wood told him that Wood, Chef Mooney and another restaurant manager thought “I was not a good fit for the company.”
“These three men could not have assessed me within that short period of time and determined that ‘I was not a good fit’ other than for the reason of me being gay,” he said.
Records filed with the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration show that Bidwell restaurant is owned by Darien DC LLC and its three principal officials are Mooney, Michael O’Sullivan and Michael Laurent, according to ABRA spokesperson Jessie Cornelius.
In a Jan. 14 order, Judge Maurice Ross, among other things, called on defendant Wood to respond to the complaint by filing an answer within 20 days of when he was served papers notifying him of the lawsuit. Court records show he was served papers for the case on Feb. 5 and a notice of acknowledgement he was served was filed in court on Feb. 10.
The lawsuit seeks $50,000 in damages from Bidwell.
Elliot Imse, a spokesperson for the D.C. Human Rights Office, said the office can’t comment on a case until or unless the office determines that probable cause exists that discrimination occurred following an investigation. However, he said that under D.C. law, a lawsuit and a discrimination complaint with the OHR can’t be filed at the same time for the same case. He said the OHR would likely dismiss the case unless the person or persons filing it drops the lawsuit.