Pizza shop owners sued by customer for discrimination

Feb. 9, 2003

NORRISTOWN, Pa. -- A black woman has filed a federal racial discrimination lawsuit against the owners of Oaks Italian Deli Pizzeria in Upper Providence, Pa.

According to the Pottstown Mercury, Cynthia M. Culbreath filed the suit over a Jan. 23 incident in which she claims Lorenzo DeSimone Jr. yelled racial epithets at her when she complained about a salad she ordered.

Culbreath, who was picking up a multi-item lunch order for several coworkers at PJM Interconnection, inspected the order for accuracy before leaving the pizzeria. When she advised the counter worker that one salad was missing its cheese, the salad was taken back and the cheese added.

According to the lawsuit, when she again inspected the salad, DeSimone "assertively" asked why she was re-inspecting it. When she told him it appeared smaller than normal, DeSimone told Culbreath she should take her business elsewhere.

According to the report, the lawsuit quotes the younger DeSimone saying he was "sick of you people," he "can't stand you (racial slur)," he is "sick of people like you coming in," "I hate all (racial slur)," "I don't want you people back here," and "What does this look like, welfare?"

In an interview with the newspaper, Culbreath said she "was shocked, just totally shocked." Culbreath also said employees and other customers who saw the incident appeared "astonished by DeSimone's remarks," but that no one intervened on her behalf.

"Initially, I was just going to blow it off," said Culbreath. "But then I realized that I did not deserve to be treated like that. He literally humiliated me in front of his employees and other customers. It made me feel very small."

DeSimone, said Culbreath is "lying."

"The words she said I said never came from my mouth," he said. "Maybe she is the one who is racist."

DeSimone said Culbreath harassed him over the $3 price of the salad, and he told her if it was too expensive that she should go to a nearby supermarket.

"All of this racial discrimination stuff is made up by her," said DeSimone. "I have plenty of Hispanic and black friends and customers, and I wouldn't use slurs like that."

Upper Providence Police Chief Donald H. Sherid said his department conducted a thorough investigation of the matter, but found insufficient evidence to file criminal charges.

Culbreath's lawsuit seeks unspecified financial compensation for emotional distress DeSimone said he's the only person being harmed by the incident.

"We've been here 10 years and this could hurt our business," said DeSimone, who vows to counter-sue and claim Culbreath is damaging his reputation.

Topics: Independent Operation

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