Attorney: Corporate culture fostered 'a cancer like racism' in Buffalo Wild Wings case

  • Attorney Cannon Lambert says a newly released police report about what happened Oct. 26 when a multiracial group of 18 was seated next to two white people at Buffalo Wild Wings in Naperville shows the restaurant's corporate culture allowed "a cancer like racism" to take hold.

      Attorney Cannon Lambert says a newly released police report about what happened Oct. 26 when a multiracial group of 18 was seated next to two white people at Buffalo Wild Wings in Naperville shows the restaurant's corporate culture allowed "a cancer like racism" to take hold. Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 11/14/2019 5:53 PM

Newly released accounts of what happened when a multiracial group was seated near two white customers at a sports bar in Naperville illustrate a troublesome culture within the Buffalo Wild Wings organization, the attorney for families in the group said Thursday.

The accounts -- some of them summarized by Naperville police officers and detectives, others handwritten by Buffalo Wild Wings employees -- were released Wednesday evening in a police report about the situation that took place Oct. 26.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The report proves "my clients' recitation of what transpired is accurate," attorney Cannon Lambert said Thursday.

His clients -- six adults and 12 children who went to the restaurant after a day of basketball games to celebrate a child's birthday -- said a host asked what race they were before seating them and said it mattered because their table would be near two regular customers who did not want to sit by black people.

Members of the group of 18 said during a news conference last week they did not want to be asked to move because of the color of their skin; but they sensed tension, so they chose to leave the restaurant even though their drinks and appetizers had arrived.

In the police report, one unidentified employee in a handwritten statement said tension grew because of "a lot of miscommunication."

Although both members of the white couple admitted to police they have made "comments in the past at Buffalo Wild Wings that would be considered inappropriate or racist," the couple, restaurant employees and members of the group of 18 all said no words were exchanged between the couple and the group on Oct. 26.

"No racist comments or remarks were made," the unidentified employee wrote, "and it blew up by word-of-mouth."

Lambert said that employee's statement could be "a desire to try and make the situation better." But that's not possible, he said.

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"There's no shine that you can put on this situation," Lambert said. "If you invite racism into your world, you can't be surprised when its venom eventually strikes. And that's what happened."

Other accounts in the police report, which found no evidence of a crime, show Buffalo Wild Wings could have put in place preventive measures to ensure nothing like this would happen, Lambert said. The restaurant's general manager told police he would have addressed inappropriate race-related comments made by the white couple in the past, but the conduct never was brought to his attention.

"What it does is really makes clear that there is such a thing as corporate culture," Lambert said. "And if a corporate culture is one that fosters or lends space to a cancer like racism, then it's difficult to be shocked when you have outbreaks like what happened on Oct. 26."

Lambert has asked the nationwide chain of 1,200 sports bars to implement sensitivity training, preemployment screening and a zero-tolerance policy for bigoted conduct. He said he expects to schedule a time to meet with Buffalo Wild Wings executives soon.

Buffalo Wild Wings Chief Communications Officer Christopher Fuller said the company would not confirm if or when a meeting is to occur.

"We are addressing it with the families," Fuller said. "Both parties have agreed to keep the details of that meeting confidential."

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