By Bianca Fortis
The owner of a Middle Village bakery says he is being harassed after he and his wife were hit with $25,000 in fines by the city Commission on Human Rights for allegedly refusing to hire a woman because she is black and for posting a discriminatory advertisement on Craigslist.
Saputhanthri said the commission’s decision has already affected his business. His shop has been egged, he has received phone calls in which callers call him vulgar names and he has seen fewer customers lately.
And, he said, the allegations are just not true.
“I am not racist,” he said. “We are living in the 21st century.”
In September 2011, Framboise Pastry, at 64-59 Dry Harbor Rd., posted a job ad seeking a counter girl on the website craigslist.org, according to a court order provided by the commission. A woman named Jamilah DaCosta applied to the job listing and was asked to come in for an interview after e-mailing with the owner of the bakery, AJ Saputhanthri.
DaCosta was interviewed by Saputhanthri’s wife, Patty Meimetea, who allegedly asked questions about her race, DaCosta said, according to the public documents. When DaCosta told her would-be employer she was Jamaican and Lebanese, Meimetea allegedly said she would upset her husband if she hired a black person because she would scare away customers, the documents said.
Meimetea said she would have offered her a position at the back of the bakery had there been one available before allegedly pointing out to DaCosta the photos on the walls of the store, which pictured only white people, DaCosta said, according to the court order.
The bakery owner also allegedly told the prospective worker to apply for a job at Rego Park Pastry, because they did not care what the counter girls there look like, DaCosta said, according to the documents.
DaCosta filed a complaint with the Commission in December 2011.
The Commission’s Law Enforcement Bureau found probable cause that the allegations were true, according to the court order. The bureau also determined that the original advertisement violated the city’s human rights law because it expressed a gender-based preference.
According to the documents, the bakery owners said the position had been filled by the time DaCosta went in for her interview and that they suggested she go to the Rego Park bakery in an attempt to help her find a job.
A hearing was held in front of an administrative law judge in March. Meimetea and Saputhranthri were not present, but they were represented by an attorney, according to the documents. They offered no documentary evidence to counter what DaCosta said, according to the court order.
Saputhanthri, who is Sri Lankan, also said he has always employed people of color, including black people.
A misunderstanding of court proceedings and poor legal advice from an attorney led to the court’s decision, he said Wednesday.
Ultimately, the court awarded $10,000 to DaCosta in compensatory damages for mental anguish. Meimetea and Saputhanthri were also assessed a $10,000 civil penalty for discriminating against DaCosta and a $5,000 civil penalty for the discriminatory counter girl ad, according to the court order. They are also required to attend anti-discrimination training.
Saputhanthri said that to appeal the decision he would have to take the case to the state Supreme Court, which would be costly.
“I am disappointed,” he said. “I don’t know what to do. How are they going to give a fine like this to a small business? I am a simple man, but I am not uneducated.”
Reach reporter Bianca Fortis by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4546.