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Corona del Mar Today: Landmark sued for discrimination

owner dumbfounded

April 09, 2011|By Amy Senk

What began as an enjoyable day at last year's Corona del Mar Christmas Walk has resulted in a legal claim of racial discrimination against Landmark Steakhouse, along with questions about whether Corona del Mar is a hostile community to African Americans.

Mark McHenry filed a federal lawsuit on March 29 seeking unspecified monetary payment for "mental anguish, embarrassment and humiliation" resulting from racial slurs used in place of his name on two Dec. 5, 2010 receipts from the Landmark Steakhouse, where he was a regular customer.

Landmark owner Mario Marovic said in an interview that since he learned of the lawsuit, he has been conducting an investigation and that an employee was suspended and then terminated late Wednesday.

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"It's not something we condone or foster in any way," Marovic said of the claims of racism. "I don't know how this could have happened. It really upsets me. We would have resolved this situation immediately" if he'd been aware of the allegations.

The suit claims that McHenry, who is African American, moved to Corona del Mar in 2007 and soon became a regular patron of the Landmark Steakhouse at 3520 E. Coast Highway. The restaurant, which opened five years ago, is popular with celebrities, including Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez, and often has a long line waiting for seats in the popular patio area.

McHenry's suit claims that even before the Christmas Walk incident, however, he sometimes didn't like the way he was treated.

"Landmark employees occasionally made comments to Plaintiff McHenry like 'black is the new white,' or would comment that he was 'getting served before the white people.' While Plaintiff McHenry did not necessarily like these comments, he let them go," the suit says.

During the Corona del Mar Christmas Walk on Dec. 5, the suit says, McHenry and some friends stopped by Landmark, where a manager let them skip the long line and escorted into the bar through the kitchen. He had a few drinks, paid his tab and left, then later returned.

The next day, the suit says, McHenry reviewed his receipts and was "shocked and appalled" to see racial slurs used in the space designated for a customer name. The suit includes images of the receipts.

The suit states that he "suffered extreme embarrassment and mental distress for patronizing a business and for being friendly with bartenders who were making a public mockery of him without his knowledge," the suit states. "He feels like the butt of an ongoing and cruel joke."

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