A black couple who was thrown out of a Memphis restaurant in 2022 for allegedly smelling of marijuana filed a federal race discrimination lawsuit last week against the restaurant.
Dechandria Bass and her boyfriend Dwan Brown, of Coahoma County, Mississippi, were in Tennessee on Aug. 7, 2022, to visit Brown’s mother and cousin, according to the lawsuit filed Thursday in federal court.
The couple met with family members at Houston’s restaurant on Poplar Avenue in Memphis.
Shortly after their arrival, the restaurant’s manager, Kayla Hollins, who is white, approached the group’s table and told the couple to leave because they “smelt of weed,” according to the lawsuit.
Bass and Brown initially didn’t react and thought Hollins was talking to someone else because they knew they didn’t smell marijuana, according to the lawsuit.
Moments later, according to the lawsuit, Hollins returned to the table with a police officer and told the couple, «I asked you to leave and come back tomorrow because you smell like weed.»
Carlos Moore, an attorney representing the couple, said Wednesday that his clients do not smoke marijuana and that they did not smoke the day they were thrown out of the restaurant.
What was supposed to be a “great family outing” was “ruined,” Moore said. His customers were discriminated against because they are black, Moore said, and the marijuana charge was «Jim Crow was 2.0, a new way of discriminating» in the restaurant industry.
The lawsuit names the restaurant, its parent company, Hillstone Restaurant Group, Inc., general manager Ralph Price and Hollins as defendants.
Hillstone Restaurant Group said in a statement Wednesday that it does not comment on pending litigation. However, the statement added: “Our company does not discriminate, as anyone who has ever eaten at our restaurant can attest. We are proud [that] guests of all races choose to dine regularly at Houston’s and appreciate our hospitality.”
A message left for Price in Houston’s Wednesday was not immediately returned.
Hollins was not contacted Wednesday. A woman who answered the phone at the restaurant said that she «doesn’t work for the company anymore.»
A Hillstone Restaurant Group representative did not immediately respond to a question about whether Hollins was still an employee.
In an August 2022 story, Fox affiliate WHBQ-TV in Memphis reported that another black couple, a police officer and a high school principal, were asked to leave the restaurant by a female manager who also accused them of smelling marijuana.
The use of marijuana, both for recreational and medicinal purposes, is mostly illegal in Tennessee, with minor exceptions such as small amounts of CBD oil.
Medical marijuana use is legal in Mississippi, where Bass and Brown are from, Moore said. He pointed out that the restaurant manager never reached the line of questioning and forced the couple to leave.
“If this wasn’t widespread racial profiling, I think Houston managers would have had to ask them where they were from and if they had any prescriptions for marijuana before accusing them of smelling weed,” Moore said.
Bass and Brown are seeking at least $500,000 each in damages for humiliation, embarrassment and emotional distress, the lawsuit says.