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Wayne James is the type of customer most businesses crave: a young, urban professional packing a lot of disposable income. The multitalented James is not only a highly acclaimed fashion designer but a Georgetown University-trained lawyer and respected gourmet whose garments have graced the wardrobes of such notables as the queen of Denmark and Pope John Paul II.
But when James and a buddy tried several times last year to indulge in the simple epicurean delights of a Domino’s pizza, the company refused to exchange the dough.
On three separate occasions in May and June of 1996, Domino’s delivery men declined personal checks from James as payment for pizzas delivered to a friend’s house located on the 5400 block of Kansas Avenue NW. James vigorously protested and got his pies only after receiving cautious approval from the manager of the Hawaii Avenue outlet.
A fourth time James learned from a delivery man that previous “bad experience” in the neighborhood dictated the company’s selective check acceptance policy. He wondered who the culprits could be. Kansas Avenue and its environs are just like many District neighborhoods: tidy, middle-class, and predominantly black.
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James suspects that the last attribute figures most prominently in what he believes is Domino’s unstated policy of check redlining.
“I’m not a depressed, downtrodden black man who believes the whole country is out to get me,” James insists. “But I call it for what it is when I see it.”
James has decided to sue, asking for $100,000 in compensatory damages and $1 million punitive. “One million dollars is not even enough,” James says, “when they deny people something as basic as food.”
Domino’s Pizza, owned by Team Washington Inc., flatly denies James’ claims of discrimination. “Our analysis…leads us to conclude that the District of Columbia Human Rights Law does not prohibit the conduct that is the subject of the claim,” argues Team Washington lawyer Stuart S. Manela. The company filed a motion to dismiss the suit in April, which was denied.
The suit is now in District Court with arguments scheduled to begin in August. James insists that his motivation for pursuing the case is not financial but moral. “The purpose of this lawsuit is to give Domino’s an opportunity to come clean,” says James, who also wants the company to establish a clear policy on check acceptance.
And he’s prepared for a long battle if necessary. “If I need to take them through the wringer, then I most certainly will,” says James. He might just have to do it on an empty stomach. CP