ANNVILLE, Pa. — The owners of a Lebanon County restaurant was ordered by a federal judge to pay $40,000 in damages to a Lebanon Valley College student who accused them of racial discrimination during an incident in January 2017.
U.S. Middle District Court Judge Jennifer P. Wilson issued the order Monday after the owners of the Annville eatery Just Wing It did not respond to a civil rights lawsuit filed by Ricky Bugg Jr. in 2018.
In the lawsuit, Bugg, who is black, claimed the restaurant owners used racial slurs toward him and refused to serve him on Jan. 22, 2017.
In the lawsuit, Bugg claimed he ordered wings from the restaurant, but Christopher Behney, the owner and founder of the eatery, came out of the kitchen and told him "I don't need your (racial slur) money."
Bugg claims he asked for his money back so he could leave, and the owner told him "Get out, (racial slur). Trump's our president now. I can say what I want."
The lawsuit also states that police were called to the restaurant, and while Bugg was giving officers a statement, Behney stood at a window and directed obscene gestures at him.
The restaurant owners and Bugg's family held a press conference about a week. During the press conference, Behney claimed he did not use the racial slur first -- Bugg Did. Beheny said he repeated what Bugg said during a political argument.
"I am very sorry about the things that have happened, but I would never use the N-word," Behney said then.
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Behney and Nikki Meyer, who was at the counter when Bugg first attempted to order food, insisted at the press conference that the incident was not racist. They claimed Bugg and his friend asked for a pitcher of beer and were denied because it appeared they had been drinking.
They claimed Bugg flipped chairs, smashed a ketchup bottle on the floor, and ruined several shrubs outside the building as he left.
Bugg later testified that he flipped a table out of frustration after being denied service.
Bugg filed the lawsuit in 2018, but Just Wing It did not file any replies or attend any hearings. The court entered a default judgment against the restaurant, citing its failure to defend itself against the lawsuit.
"Just Wing It has been properly served with the complaint and the motion for entry of default judgment, and has not responded in any way in this proceeding," she wrote. "No counsel has entered an appearance, and Just Wing It did not appear at the evidentiary hearing in this matter. There has been a considerable passage of time since the incident at issue and the filing of the complaint, and any further delay could impair Bugg’s ability to effectively pursue his claim."
She ordered Just Wing It to pay $20,000 for the emotional distress and humiliation suffered by Bugg, and another $20,000 in punitive damages for "the intentional and willful act of degrading Bugg because of his race."
Wilson wrote, “In this case, given Just Wing It’s failure to respond to the claims made by Bugg and the evidence in the record, it is highly unlikely that there is a meritorious defense to the racist comments made by Behney to Bugg.
“Behney’s racist verbal assault on Bugg was done intentionally and purposefully, with racially discriminatory animus, for the purpose of denying equal treatment on the basis of race.
“Behney’s racial slurs destroyed a young man’s sense of acceptance and well-being. Bugg’s wound will not be healed by this judgment, but the court hopes that Behney will learn from this judgment that there was a significant harm caused by his cruelty, which will now impose a financial cost to his business.”
The restaurant has until May 11 to pay the damages to Bugg in full, otherwise interest will begin to be assessed.
It's possible the restaurant could also be forced to pay Bugg's legal fees, Wilson said in her judgement.