Lawsuit alleges racial discrimination in incident at Fleming’s steakhouse in La Jolla

Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar in La Jolla is at 8970 University Center Lane.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

A server at Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar in La Jolla is being sued on allegations of racial discrimination after an exchange with a Black patron at the restaurant in May. The business also is a defendant in the case.

The suit, filed July 5 in San Diego County Superior Court, seeks damages to be determined at trial, “but not less than $8,000” for legal expenses, along with “punitive damages … sufficient to punish, penalize and/or deter [the] defendants from further engaging in the conduct.”

According to the suit, plaintiffs Mychel McKillian, who is Black, and Denise Grimaldo, who is Hispanic, were dining with others at the Fleming’s location at 8970 University Center Lane on May 29 to celebrate Grimaldo’s brother getting engaged.

“McKillian, Grimaldo and Grimaldo’s mother each ordered a salad and a steak plate for dinner,” the suit states. “Grimaldo and Grimaldo’s mother received a salad, but McKillian did not. When the dinner plates began to arrive at their table, Grimaldo received a hot plate of steak, but McKillian and Grimaldo’s mother did not. Instead of steak, McKillian was served an empty hot plate sprinkled with parsley. McKillian’s plate was delivered by a male server. While delivering the empty plate, [the server] looked at McKillian and said: ‘You’re probably used to a loud sizzle with your hot plate, but ours is silent. Enjoy.’”

The lawsuit did not identify the server by name.

Mychel McKillian's lawsuit says he was served this empty plate at Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar in La Jolla.
Mychel McKillian’s lawsuit says he was served this empty plate at Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar in La Jolla.
(Courtesy of Arthur Kim)

When McKillian asked where his food was, the server walked away without answering, according to the suit.

“McKillian never received an explanation on why he did not receive his steak [and] never received an apology from anyone in the restaurant,” the suit states.

The suit adds that the server asked McKillian whether he had ever been in theater and told McKillian that he had once “spilled a drink on a Black guy” while working as a bartender and thanked McKillian for “your good behavior for not acting out.”

Representatives of Fleming’s did not immediately respond to the La Jolla Light’s request for comment.

“McKillian felt belittled, humiliated and racially profiled,” according to the suit. “Grimaldo felt her husband was being stereotyped, humiliated and discriminated against, as he was the only African American guest in their party. ... Grimaldo sat in her chair feeling humiliated in the presence of her family but didn’t leave for the sake of not ruining her brother’s engagement dinner.”

The average cost of dinner at Fleming’s is about $80 per person, including food, beverage, tax and tip, according to the restaurant’s website.

McKillian, who was visiting San Diego from another area in Southern California, said in a statement that “words can’t express the humiliation I felt. No one should ever have to experience something like that. I can only pray that people can learn to come together and accept each other.”

McKillian’s Los Angeles-based attorney Arthur Kim told the Light that he is seeing an uptick in these kinds of incidents and in the number of race-related lawsuits.

“This is not the biggest case in the world, but it is alarming,” Kim said. “My opinion is that there is so much racial hostility that is brewing under the surface in our society, and it is so dangerous. ... So this case is significant in that it brings these instances to the public’s attention.” ◆