French Quarter eatery facing lawsuit

Published 1:04 am Thursday, July 5, 2007

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A former cook at the famous French Quarter restaurant Galatoire’s has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit claiming that the business discriminated against black employees.

The restaurant calls the allegations ‘‘absolutely false.’’

‘‘We plan on vehemently defending our reputation,’’ Galatoire’s manager Melvin Rodrigue said.

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Derrick Frey, 38, of New Orleans, worked at Galatoire’s for about one year before Hurricane Katrina hit Aug. 29, 2005, and claims the restaurant refused to rehire him and other former black employees in favor of its white staff and ‘‘several other new Hispanic employees,’’ the lawsuit says.

‘‘All pre-Katrina employees were told — by word of mouth — to come to the restaurant to seek their former jobs,’’ the six-page lawsuit says. But Frey claims that when he and others came back, they were not welcomed.

Frey says he was cast off by the business and his position was ‘‘filled by a less-experienced person who is white and was being paid more than Frey, who is very experienced and is black,’’ the lawsuit states.

Rodrigue disputed Frey’s claim and said Frey turned down a post-Katrina job offer from the restaurant.

Rodrigue said Frey took too long to return to New Orleans after the hurricane.

By the time the restaurant reopened on Jan. 1, 2006, Frey still wasn’t back and did not return for several more months, Rodrigue said.

The claim that Galatoire’s filled Frey’s position with a less experienced white person is false, the manager said.

‘‘We actually filled his position with an African-American,’’ Rodrigue said. ‘‘Upon (Frey’s) return in April (2006), we offered him the sauté cook position at night. He chose not to take it.’’

Frey also filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which closed his file March 28 without a finding.

The lawsuit was filed June 29 at U.S. District Court in New Orleans, and was assigned to Chief Judge Ginger Berrigan. Galatoire’s has not yet had an opportunity to respond to the complaint in court.

Frey is suing under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, describing his allegations as ‘‘employment discrimination and retaliation’’ in court documents.

During his employment at the French Creole restaurant on Bourbon Street, Frey claims senior white employees routinely used racial epithets in reference to black workers.

When Frey complained to his bosses about being refused a promotion to assistant kitchen manager, which he claims was given to a ‘‘less-experienced white employee,’’ he says he was drug-tested the next day as a form of retaliation.

Reached by telephone Tuesday, Frey said he is a maintenance worker for the Orleans Parish School Board and declined to discuss the lawsuit.

‘‘I switched professions altogether,’’ Frey said.