- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 11, 2000

In D.C. Superior Court this week, the owner of the only pizza company that delivers to all of D.C., including its most dangerous urban neighborhoods, sits defending his company against a charge of racism.

Never mind that the Domino's store in question has an all-black staff manager, cooks and delivery men. Frank Meeks and Team Washington are facing a $30 million lawsuit alleging discrimination because the driver delivering a Domino's Pizza to plaintiff Jim Bell refused to take the pizza to the door of his house on the unit block of Q Street SW.

Mr. Bell, a lawyer, also is plaintiff for a similar case in the U.S. District Court and is the attorney for black clients in another suit (for $9 million) against Domino's in Prince George's County. In the D.C. case, he alleges that Domino's discriminates against blacks because the driver refused to get out of his car and walk up to his door.

Mr. Bell charges that his street had fewer reported crimes than some neighborhoods that are far more affluent Georgetown, for instance. In rebuttal, Frank Meek's lawyer cites police statistics that show 14 homicides, 68 robberies and more than 100 assaults in the three years before Mr. Bell's lawsuit. The block itself, on the edge of an industrial zone, has buildings with broken and boarded-up windows. Another driver from the same store was robbed and beaten, another robbed and stuffed in the trunk of his car. Several Domino's drivers in the D.C. area have been killed while making deliveries.

Thus, while Domino's serves high-crime, low-income neighborhoods that others refuse to serve, drivers are given discretion as to when to get out of the car and when to summon the customer to the curb to receive the pizza. Doing the latter certainly is not in the drivers' best interests they know their tips obviously will suffer. But they refuse to leave their cars to make a delivery when they feel their lives may be in danger.

Like taxi drivers and other service providers that are increasingly becoming targets for lawsuits, the pizza company is in a Catch 22. On the one hand, if Domino's or other companies refuse to provide service, they are accused of redlining. If they do go in, and the driver or deliveryman gets attacked, the owner is subject to lawsuits by the families of the drivers. And now if they serve those communities but have guidelines that give the driver discretion to require the customer to come to the vehicle, then they can wind up in court for discriminating, as in Frank Meeks' case.

Mr. Meeks, who owns 59 Domino's franchises, over the years has created jobs for hundreds of blacks and has been benefactor of many causes benefiting low-income people. He continues to provide service to neighborhoods that his competitors refuse to serve. But he is now forced to defend that decision, wasting precious time two weeks in court and all of its costs to challenge a $30 million lawsuit against the company.

The Domino's case is just one more in a proliferation of race grievance complaints that fill the airwaves and are swamping the courts. Unfortunately, they have the effect of disabling the moral authority that has been gained through the civil rights movement. This is not the defense of social justice. This is profiteer- ing at the expense of civil rights.

The issues in this flood of complaints about racial profiling and discrimination are often dubious. It is highly questionable as to what the motivation is for those filing the complaints. There is a pattern frivolous, if not callous, lawsuits in the name of racism. As I see it, there are three motivations: The first is sheer publicity. There is a growing group of individuals who at the drop of a hat will fly to any section of the country to lead rallies and call media conferences over any incident to which they can possibly bring in the issue of race. Their goal is to bring attention to themselves as champions of racial justice.

The second reason is to exempt individuals from responsibility for their improper or illegal actions. The third motivation, it seems to me, is for sheer profit, as seems to be the case of the pizza situation.

The situation involved with the current pizza lawsuit is in one sense more egregious than the others. It wraps itself in the civil rights banner, but at the same time contradicts a principle goal of the civil rights movement economic self-sufficiency for blacks through business development and wealth creation. In pursuit of this fundamental principle of the civil rights movement, black businessmen themselves are in peril of running afoul of discrimination lawsuits.

This is the kind of confused message that black America is sending to white America: That our goal isn't social justice. It's racial grievance. Our goal isn't to benefit black Americans, but to satisfy the ego needs or profiteering of the protestors. In this kind of scenario, nobody wins. There only are losers.

Given the triad of conflicting threats, what is it the plaintiffs and race grievance merchants want Domino's to do? What employment base do they offer the employees of Domino's if the owner chooses to stop serving this community? What plans if any do they have for opening food delivery businesses to meet the demand?

Black America needs to institute a Hall of Shame for people who misuse and abuse the rich legacy of the civil rights movement, for publicity, self-aggrandizement, or profit.

Robert L. Woodson Sr. is president of the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise.

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