Lambda Legal, the LGBT legal advocacy organization, announced Thursday that it had filed a lawsuit against a Queens Sizzler franchise over an alleged attack on a lesbian customer.
The suit claims that Liza Friedlander, a lesbian DJ and longtime Queens resident, went to the Forest Hills restaurant for brunch with two friends last September. After paying for the breakfast buffet, Friedlander served herself and started to return to her table. The Sizzler manager “aggressively approached her” and accused her of not paying for her meal. Friedlander’s response is unclear, but the suit alleges that the manager knocked her down with a violent push to her chest and kicked her legs while calling her a “fucking dyke.”
According to the complaint, at least two male Sizzler patrons joined the manager in yelling “homophobic and hate-filled epithets” at Friedlander. They threw unspecified objects at Friedlander and her friends until they left the restaurant, fearing for their safety. Friedlander was taken by ambulance to a local hospital where she was diagnosed with contusions.
“What was supposed to be a relaxing, enjoyable Saturday brunch at Sizzler turned into a horrifying ordeal of discrimination, violence and degradation targeting Liza because she did not conform to the stereotypes of how a woman should look,” Lambda Legal staff attorney Natalie Chin said in a statement.
In an interview with the New York Daily News, Edgar Orellana—who identified himself as the Sizzler manager involved in the incident—insists he did not touch or verbally abuse Friedlander.
““We told her she could continue eating from the buffet. She tried to hit me with her plate. I jumped back. A customer grabbed her so that she would not hit me. I didn’t touch her. I went to my office and called 911. I did not come out again,” Orellana told the Daily News.
Lambda Legal accuses Sizzler’s owner, the manager and two unidentified patrons of violating Friedlander’s civil rights “based on her actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, and sex in a place of public accommodation.” The case is the first to test the state’s bias crime law, passed in August 2010, which holds perpetrators accountable for anti-gay violence and intimidation.