Civil rights lawsuit filed over woman’s arrest at Alabama Waffle House

The woman arrested last year in a controversial incident at an Alabama Waffle House has filed a new lawsuit accusing the Georgia-based restaurant chain of violating her civil rights and supporting discrimination.

Chikesia Clemons, then 25, was arrested at a Saraland, Ala., Waffle House in the early hours of April 22, 2018. Cellphone video of her arrest showed her being wrestled to the ground by several police officers, her breast exposed in the process.

The video went viral, garnering national headlines and sparking protests outside the restaurant's corporate headquarters in Norcross.

In the lawsuit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Atlanta, Clemons accuses Waffle House employees of calling police on her and her friends that morning because they were black. The suit refutes claims that Clemons’ group was intoxicated or unruly and argues that Waffle House is liable because it “endorsed and ratified” the discrimination of its employees.

Clemons is represented by the law firm of Benjamin Crump, which has represented high-profile clients like the families of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown.

“The only reason Ms. Clemons was subjected to this assault [by police] was because Waffle House employees falsely reported her and her friends as being drunk,” the suit says. “The employees called the police based on racial animus not out of fear for their safety or that of their customers.”

Pat Warner, a corporate spokesman for Waffle House, said the restaurant was in the process of reviewing the lawsuit.

“As we’ve said previously, we regret this incident happened at all,” Warner wrote in an email to the AJC. “As anyone who has dined with us knows, we have a very diverse customer base and workforce. We have had a culture of inclusion since we opened our doors in 1955, and are very proud of the fact that our restaurants have been open to all.”

In August, an Alabama jury returned a split verdict on the charges filed against Clemons in connection with the incident: not guilty of disorderly conduct, guilty of resisting arrest.

She was sentenced to six months in prison and a year of probation, but Mobile County Judge Brandy Hambright suspended the jail time, according to news reports.

In her new lawsuit, Clemons says she lost her job as a result of the incident and suffers from back pain and emotional distress. The suit asks for unspecified damages and for a judge to order Waffle House “to adopt and enforce policies that end racial discrimination at its restaurants.”

It suggests that such policies be developed, approved and monitored in collaboration with the National Council for Incarcerated Women and Girls.