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Man Awarded $16,000 in Racial-Slur Case

TIMES STAFF WRITER

An Anaheim truck driver who sued an El Pollo Loco in Los Angeles after the restaurant manager addressed him with a racial epithet won a $16,000 jury verdict Wednesday, his attorney said.

James A. Wells, 27, had filed suit in Los Angeles Superior Court alleging a violation of his civil rights. A jury returned the reward after a five-day trial.

Wells alleged that he had asked for more ice for his drink and was told by the manager to “get . . . out of here, you black nigger.”

El Pollo Loco, a subsidiary of Dennys Inc., owned by TW Services Inc. in Spartanburg, S.C., must pay Wells $3,000 for discrimination, $3,000 for slander and a $10,000 penalty levied by Judge John Leahy, who found that Wells was a “victim of an act of violence or intimidation based on race,” said Wells’ attorney, Maurice Mandel II, in Westminster.

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No company officials could be reached late Wednesday.

The incident, Mandel said, occurred on July 14, 1990, on a day described by Wells as “102 degrees and 80% humidity.”

Wells walked into the El Pollo Loco on Broadway at 8th Street after volunteering at a local church. Because of the heat, Wells ordered an “orange Bang” soft drink and was given a large, 32-ounce cup.

The store manager gave Wells five ice cubes and refused his requests for more. When Wells persisted, the manager, according to testimony, told him to get out and called him “nigger.”

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A witness, Stan Cerwinski, said that Wells spent some time talking to the manager. Cerwinski had no trouble getting ice for his soft drink, Mandel said.

Wells, who has a black belt in kung fu, testified that the manager had asked him to “step outside” to “finish this,” but he did not.

Reached after the verdict, Wells said he was pleased that “justice was rendered.”

“The judge was fair and the jury was fair. I’m very pleased,” he said.

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The plaintiff said his father, who was raised in the South, experienced segregation. But Wells said he was a reluctant plaintiff.

“I called up Pollo Loco and all I wanted from them was a verbal apology, a written apology posted in the store where it took place and some disciplinary action to take place. They never apologized,” he said.

Mandel said he and Wells rejected settlement offers of $500 before the trial and $5,000 made during jury selection.


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