A former Maine woman has sued a Portland waterfront restaurant, saying the wait staff subjected her and her party to snide comments and poor service because she is black and her group was racially diverse.

RyiSHisa Morris is suing Boone’s Fish House over the incident that occurred 2½ years ago. Morris is black and Native American.

The owner of Boone’s, Harding Lee Smith, denies the claims and said the suit is a bid for money.

Morris has sued over discrimination claims before. In 2007, she sued Regis, which operates a hair salon in the Maine Mall in South Portland, after working there for a day. Morris said she was fired for pointing out what she said was a discriminatory practice. She and Regis settled the case, but the terms were not disclosed.

In 2012, she was awarded $100,000, plus $23,000 for legal fees and interest, after she said she was denied service because of her race at the Zales jewelry store-owned Piercing Pagoda in the Maine Mall. The Maine Human Rights Commission determined that Morris had been the victim of illegal discrimination. Zale Delaware Inc. appealed the ruling, but the appeal was denied.

In her suit against Boone’s, Morris said she and a large group of friends made reservations at Boone’s to celebrate her birthday. But she said they received “second-class service,” were referred to as “the black party” and were eventually asked to leave the restaurant. She said the incident led her to relocate to Massachusetts from South Portland.


Morris said her group included people with Dominican, Haitian, Jamaican, Puerto Rican, Laotian and Vietnamese backgrounds, and contends that was the basis for their alleged mistreatment.

“This isn’t your kind of place, you should go somewhere else more your crowd,” a restaurant worker told one of the members of Morris’ group, the lawsuit alleges.

Morris is seeking damages for discrimination and a requirement that the restaurant’s employees take civil rights training.

Smith, who owns Boone’s and three other restaurants in Portland, denied that Morris was discriminated against.

“It’s simply a cash grab,” Smith said, alleging that Morris sent him a letter saying she would not sue if she was paid $85,000.

“They were served, they were fed, they were intoxicated and they were asked to leave,” said Smith, who said he was at the restaurant the night of the alleged incident. “There was no discrimination of any kind.”


Morris filed the suit Tuesday in federal court in Portland. As required by state law, she had earlier filed a complaint with the Maine Human Rights Commission, which found by a 4-0 vote in August that there were “no reasonable grounds” to believe that the restaurant discriminated against her.

Morris’ attorney in the federal suit, David Webbert, said his client did not have a lawyer guiding her through the commission process and was not present for the vote against her complaint. Webbert said Morris was not available Friday to comment.

In her suit, Morris said servers at the restaurant did not respond to her or her guests’ requests, made them wait an hour before putting in their dinner orders and another hour before bringing the meals, dropped plates on the table, served the meals to the wrong diners and simply switched the plates when that was pointed out, even after the diners had already begun to eat from the plates. Some guests never received meals at all, the suit alleges, and the staff refused to cut and serve a birthday cake they had brought to the restaurant, even though they provided that same service to a nearby group of white diners celebrating a birthday.

When the group moved to the restaurant’s bar for its 10 p.m. “reverse happy hour,” a manager told them they were being “cut off” and told to leave.

“I was so disappointed at how we were treated,” Morris said in a statement released by her lawyer. “I hope this lawsuit will make restaurants like Boone’s Fish House understand that the law requires them to treat all patrons the same, no matter their race.”

But Smith said Morris’ account of the evening changed as the case worked its way through the Human Rights Commission.


Smith said Morris and her party didn’t bring in a cake, so there was no basis for the complaint about servers refusing to cut a cake and serve it. He said the group was cut off at the bar and asked to leave because some of them were intoxicated.

“As this has gone on and on, it keeps changing,” he said. “We didn’t do anything wrong. We didn’t discriminate against anybody.”

Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:


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