These days it is considered politically incorrect to be a racist. Peoples behavior and comments may allude to or give a glimpse into their psyches. While some use innuendo, thinly valed, dog whistled signals, and implications all day long. There is rarely an overt statement of racism. But every now and them some jerk is comfortable enough or bold enough to show his or her true colors.
At the Framboise Patisserie in Middle Village, Queens, the pastries are elegant, the cakes are custom-made and city officials say the hiring is discriminatory.
“I can’t hire you because you’re black,” Jamilah DaCosta, 25, said she heard when she applied for a job working the counter at this French bake shop.
The Rego Park woman interviewed with co-owner Patty Meimetea in October 2011 but was told she wouldn’t be a good fit for the “counter girl” position because black workers in the front of the store would scare away customers, according to findings by the city Human Rights Commission.
After an investigation and a trial, the commission last week fined the bakery $25,000 for racial and gender discrimination for weeding out DaCosta because of her race and discouraging men from applying for the job with a gender-specific “counter girl” ad on Craigslist.
“I felt hurt. I was disgusted,” DaCosta said of her experience at Framboise Patisserie. “Before I could even pull out my resume or start a formal interview, she was telling me all this negative stuff she couldn’t hire me because I was black, I would scare away her customers.”
According to DaCosta and the commission, when DaCosta came in for the interview, Meimetea quickly started quizzing her about her nationality. DaCosta said she was American, but after the owner pressed her, she said she was Jamaican and Lebanese, according to the decision.
She told DaCosta her husband would be angry if she hired a black worker for the counter and said she would hire her if there were a job open in the kitchen, where no one would see her.
She also suggested applying for a job at another Queens bakery where bosses wouldn’t care what the workers look like and told DaCosta to look at the pictures hanging around the bakery, pointing out they were all of white people.
A shaken DaCosta cried in her car after the disastrous interview.
“They’re not judging me on my personality, but my skin color. What century are we living in?” she said. “I thought I had thick skin, I thought I could withstand anything, but it just completely broke me down.”
The owners denied making racist remarks and insist DaCosta is lying. “Of course this is not true,” Meimetea said in a brief interview.
Meimetea’s husband and co-owner AJ Saputhanthri said that DaCosta was not hired because the shop had already filled the position and added that DaCosta didn’t have the necessary experience.
“I can’t hire somebody who worked at McDonald’s,” he said. “She don’t even know what is the cookie dough.”
Saputhanthri added that he found any charges of racism absurd, because he himself is from Sri Lanka. “I want the human rights judge to look at me and tell me I look like a white,” he said.
Saputhanthri even accused DaCosta herself of racism, saying she assumed his wife, Meimetea, was racist because she looked white. Meimetea is Greek.
Can anyone actually look Greek?
“It’s never true. I swear to you,” he said. “I respect everybody. I don’t do anything bad to people.”
“They want only money,” he said of city officials. “I’m a simple man living simple, working hard ... They want to take my money away.”
The commission found the pair’s denials weren’t credible, noting they admitted they had never hired a black person or a man to work the counter in the three years they had been in business, though Saputhanthri said the bakery now has two black employees, including one at the counter.
Of course they do.
“Respondents’ actions were blatant violations,” the commission wrote in its decision. “Meimetea’s statements to Ms. DaCosta were cruelly and flagrantly bigoted and demeaning.”
The $25,000 penalty the commission ordered the bakery to pay includes $10,000 in damages to DaCosta, a $10,000 fine for racial discrimination for the shop’s treatment of DaCosta, and a $5,000 fine for gender discrimination for the “counter girl” ad.