Anti-gay action gets reaction

September 7, 2007
By

David Taber


Courtesy PhotoSandra Rodrigues and Stephanie Perez being refused service at Tedeschi’s prompted outrage from customers and later action from store management.

Sandra Rodrigues and her girlfriend, Stephanie Perez, were denied service at the Tedeschi’s at 684 Centre St. last month, for displaying affection too openly for the store clerk’s taste.

They said they were shocked, and other patrons were outraged. “People were like, ‘Do you even know where you are? You’re in JP,’” Rodrigues said, referring to the neighborhood’s reputation for tolerance and pride in diversity.

A representative from Tedeschi’s told the Gazette last week the organization has investigated the incident and taken “appropriate action.”

Rodrigues contacted the Gazette late this week, saying she had been informed by a representative of Tedeschi’s that the clerk had been fired.

The incident occurred just after midnight on Aug 21. Rodrigues said she was standing in line behind Perez, with her hands on Perez’s hips, while the latter swayed to the music playing on the Tedeschi’s sound system.

The clerk—whom Rodrigues described as being in his 40s or 50s and who was wearing a nametag—told the couple they were acting like they were in a “videotape pornography film” and said he would not serve them, according to Rodrigues.

When they got to the front of the line, Rodrigues said, she placed her juice on the counter, and the clerk “grabbed the juice, threw it to the side and said to get out of the store.”

There were about five other people in the store at the time of the incident, Rodrigues said. One customer threw down the items he was planning to purchase and stormed out.

A heterosexual couple was standing in line behind Perez and Rodrigues, and the woman offered to purchase the drink on Rodrigues’s behalf, but the clerk declined to sell it at all.

The irony of the situation, said Peter Papodopoulos, a customer who witnessed the incident, was, “The man and the woman were being far more affectionate to each other than the woman and the woman were.”

The couple behind them was “canoodling,” Rodrigues said. As they moved forward in line, Rodrigues said, she attempted to make light of the situation by informing them that the clerk frowned on physical contact. “I turned to them and said, ‘You can’t do that,’” Rodrigues said.

Both Rodrigues and Papadopoulos said they were amazed at how certain the clerk was that he was in the right.

“He said something about Tedeschi’s being private and I said, ‘You’re forgetting what country you’re in,’” Rodrigues said.

Papadopoulos said the clerk kept repeating that he had the incident on videotape and “seemed sure nothing could happen to him.”

“I don’t know what he thought he had on video,” Papadopoulos said.

On Aug. 29, Tedeschi’s regional manager John Connell told the Gazette an investigation into the incident was complete, and “appropriate action” had been taken. He declined to describe the action or comment further on the incident, citing employee confidentiality.

“Every customer is to be treated the same. Customers are our business. It’s just like if we were missing money,” Connell said.

Connell said stealing money would be grounds for immediate termination, but declined to say whether this was the fate of the Tedeschi’s clerk.

“To me, it’s his personal business,” Connell said.

Papudopoulos, who is a filmmaker studying at Emerson College, described the disparate treatment of the two couples as “almost too perfect a set-up.”

The law

It also seems to be the perfect set-up for demonstrating how Massachusetts’ anti-discrimination law works.

Discrimination in public accommodation on the basis of sexual preference is illegal, said Bruce Bell, who runs the Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) Legal InfoLine.

The state’s definition of protected classes includes gays and lesbians. It is unlawful “if someone [in a protected class] is told not to do something someone else is allowed to do,” Bell, who is not a lawyer, said.

In addition to sexual orientation, it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of race, age or disability in housing, employment or public accommodation, Bell said.

Rodrigues said the couple contacted Bell after the incident, but Bell refused to confirm receiving the call to the Gazette, citing the confidentiality of info-line calls.

Victims of discrimination have the option of filing a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD), which will then hold a probable cause hearing and “try to get a resolution,” Bell said.

After a certain point, complainants also have the option of filing suit in court, Bell said.

“There are several options, but sometimes the best recourse is to try to solve the problem locally,” Bell said, “The important thing is there are laws in the state of Massachusetts.”

Following the incident, Rodrigues said she contacted Tedeschi’s, and was in the process of obtaining a lawyer. The couple was considering filing a complaint with MCAD, Rodrigues said. Just before the Gazette went to press, she called and said the issue had been resolved to her satisfaction.

Rodrigues said the store representative who contacted her said he would look into resources for sensitivity training offered on the web site of the Human Rights Campaign, a national gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender advocacy organization.

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