David Martin was in the mood for raw fish, and he liked the deal offered by a Studio City sushi restaurant: all you can eat for $28.
He took a seat at the counter and started ordering. But it turned out that Martin didn’t really want sushi, which includes rice; he wanted all-you-can-eat sashimi, which is just fish. He began picking the seafood off the top and leaving the rice.
Restaurant owner Jay Oh told Martin that if he wanted the all-you-can-eat price, he’d have to eat the rice too and not just fill up on fish. Martin replied that he has diabetes and that he can’t eat rice.
Oh said he offered to prepare sashimi for Martin. Two orders of sashimi cost $25, or $3 less than the all-you-can-eat sushi deal. But Oh said Martin declined the offer.
Martin left the restaurant after being charged a la carte prices for the sushi he’d already ordered plus $1 for a cup of green tea.
Two weeks later, Martin filed suit in Los Angeles County Superior Court. It seeks at least $4,000 in damages for the “humiliation, embarrassment and mental anguish” Martin says he suffered after being discriminated against “on the basis of his disability.”
Discrimination, or shakedown?
Oh says it’s the latter, and is determined to go to trial, even if the eventual legal cost tops the $6,000 Martin subsequently demanded to make his lawsuit go away.
“I have to fight this,” Oh told me over green tea at A Ca-Shi Sushi before the dinner rush. “Why do I have to give this person money? I didn’t do anything wrong.”
Martin couldn’t be reached for comment. But his attorney, Stuart E. Cohen, said that “we are not after money, but a change in A Ca-Shi’s thinking and policy.”
“I would rather like to see A Ca-Shi succeed on a level playing field, not a discriminatory one,” he said.
I should note here that I have Type 1 diabetes and I can sympathize with the frustration Martin feels in not being able to eat anything he’d like. This is a difficult disease to manage, requiring willpower and discipline.
That said, I’m with Oh on this one.
If it’s Oh’s policy that you eat everything you’re served if you want the all-you-can-eat price, then that’s the policy. If you don’t like it, don’t go there again. Or pay the a la carte price and eat whatever you want. Or order the sashimi for goodness’ sake and don’t make such a fuss.
“The rice is part of the all-you-can-eat sushi,” Oh said. “If you only eat the fish, I would go broke.”
Martin says in his lawsuit that he has Type 2 diabetes, which means his body still produces insulin but doesn’t process it well. A Type 1 diabetic, by contrast, no longer produces insulin and must inject the hormone before every meal to keep blood sugar levels under control.
Many people with Type 2 diabetes, including Martin, take pills to treat their condition and often try to limit their intake of carbohydrates, such as carb-heavy rice.
Unlike him, I do have to inject insulin before I eat, but that doesn’t stop me from enjoying sushi, pasta, pizza or other foods bulging with carbs. I just dose correctly for the meal. Rice will harm a diabetic only if the diabetic chooses to be harmed.
More to the point, I expect no special favors because of my illness. If a restaurant doesn’t serve what I want — all-you-can-eat sashimi, say — I go somewhere else.
Yes, diabetes is officially classified as a disability. But it’s not debilitating. I’ve met plenty of other people in wheelchairs or with seeing-eye dogs who cope with far greater challenges than I face. And I seldom hear them complaining about being discriminated against.
You play the hand you’ve been dealt.
Cohen, Martin’s attorney, said his client “has frequented numerous sushi bars and not once has he ever been demanded to eat rice upon explaining that he is diabetic.” So go back to those places.
The only thing Martin has proved with his lawsuit is that he has problems accepting other people’s quite reasonable rules. The fact that he offered to drop his suit in return for a payout of $6,000 isn’t exactly the hallmark of a civil rights champion.
The next hearing in the case is scheduled for Feb. 25. Oh’s lawyer, Joyce J. Cho, said she’s filed a motion for the lawsuit to be dismissed because it lacks legal merit, but she expects the case to eventually come to trial later this year.
Meanwhile, Martin’s attorney said he intends “to reach out and work with the American Diabetes Assn. to create local directories of diabetic-friendly or not-friendly establishments.”
Perhaps I can help. In my experience, there’s no such thing as a diabetic-friendly or not-friendly business.
Just friendly and not-friendly diabetics.
David Lazarus’ column runs Tuesdays and Fridays. He also can be seen daily on KTLA-TV Channel 5. Send your tips or feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.