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Lawsuit against Eddie Merlot's cites racism

By Lisa Brody

Two former employees of Eddie Merlot's Bloomfield Hills, 37000 Woodward Avenue, filed a civil rights lawsuit in Oakland County Circuit Court on Monday, January 10, alleging ongoing racism by the restaurant's manager which led them to leave an unwelcome employment environment.

The complaint, filed by attorneys Jonathan Marko and Zachary Ryan of Marko Law in Detroit, for plaintiffs James Gaines, a former sous chef, and Allante Bridges, a former waitress, against Eddie Merlot's LLC and Curtis Nordeen, the general manager of the Bloomfield Hills location, allege Nordeen would, during their tenure at the establishment, add “CPT” after assumed African American names, asserting they would run late. “CPT” was his term for “colored people time.”

Gaines and Bridges said they witnessed Nordeen call a black homosexual employee a “fucking faggot,” and frequently accused Black customers, behind their backs, of being on drugs. They allege Nordeen participated in jokes with kitchen staff that Black people like fried chicken and watermelon; he also made jokes about shoving watermelon down Black children's throats.

Nordeen told staff, including Bridges, that he only wanted Black staff waiting on Black customers because it made him comfortable. According to the complaint, Nordeen also would seat African American customers and white customers in different sections of the restaurant.

“Mr. Nordeen's blatant racism empowered Caucasian staff members to regularly engage in racist behavior,” the complaint said.

“The alleged incidents occurred during their employment,” Marko said, noting complaints were repeatedly made to management.

Gaines was hired in 2016; Bridges in 2020.

He said it reached it's height on July 3, 2021, when Gaines, Bridges and four other co-workers, who were white, took Nordeen outside and told him he had to “stop this racist behavior or we will have to leave.”

According to Marko, Nordeen said he couldn't stop it, that it was who he was. Instead, he offered them all raises to stay.

“Each of the employees declined Nordeen's offer,” Marko said. “They all declined to be bought to work in a racist environment.”

Marko said Eddie Merlot's LLC would not deny or confirm if Nordeen is still employed at the restaurant. A call to the restaurant confirmed he is still the general manager.

“This is a harassment and discrimination-free environment,” said a manager who declined to be named. “Remember, these are just allegations.

“I have sat down with them twice, and they've refused to take any responsibility,” Marko said. “The first time their lawyer accused me of making it all up.”

Further affidavits from other employees were taken and presented to the corporation, and Marko said they have continued to deny culpability, so the lawsuit was filed, alleging that Eddie Merlot's and Nordeen have violated the Elliot-Larsen Michigan Civil Rights Act as Gaines and Bridges were their employees.

“We cannot take back that terrible, hostile work environment, or give them back their jobs, so we're going to ask a jury to send a very loud message to have them take responsibility,” said Marko.

He did not specify an amount they are seeking.

“As many millions as it will take for Eddie Merlot's to stop perpetuating this racist culture,” he said.

The case has been assigned to visiting Judge Edward Sosnick at Oakland County Circuit Court.


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