Three days after the incident, Damon and Kim Hall seem visibly shaken to discuss it.
“I have never had anything like that to happen to me,” said Kim Hall, 36, an attorney for the federal government. “I’ve had, you know, small racist things that people say, but never anything like this. She was yelling racial insults…I just kept thinking, ‘I’m so happy our children are not here.’”
According to the Halls, they were subjected to racist taunts and profanity by an employee of Viet Thai restaurant in Adams Morgan on Aug. 5 after they refused to pay for a dish of pad thai that Kim had returned because it was overcooked. Anger over the incident prompted them to file complaints with several agencies, including the D.C. Office of Human Rights and the Adams Morgan Business Improvement District. They discussed the incident with the AFRO at their Bowie home on Aug. 7.
The Halls said they went into the restaurant about 2:30 p.m. while shopping in the neighborhood. She ordered pad thai, but discovered after tasting it, that the noodles were soggy. She called a waitress and the meal was replaced with another, but they were charged for it. When they refused to pay, the couple said, restaurant employee Laor Sripattra, the mother of one of the managers, accused them of consuming the meal and then refusing to pay for it. The Halls said Kim had only taken one bite of the dish before she complained to a waitress.
“My wife is half Black and half Vietnamese, so she knows what that dish is supposed to taste like,” said Damon Hall, 37, a securities trader. “The woman told her, ‘You tasted it. You have to pay for it.’ I told her that there was no way my wife could have known the dish was bad had she not tasted it. She said we had to pay for it anyway.”
The employee, they said, became increasingly insulting after they continued to refuse to pay for the returned meal. Damon said she called them “cheap [expletive].” He said she told them that they could not leave until they paid, so he asked her to call police. He also called police twice. Officers who responded to the scene stayed with the couple until they took down information for a complaint they planned to file. No arrests were made. Damon Hall said he is concerned that police did not question the woman because she barred them from leaving by blocking the door so they couldn’t leave.
They felt the employee was attempting to goad them into a physical confrontation by blocking the door. The only way they could have gone outside, the Halls said, was to push through the door while she was blocking it.
“I called a friend from D.C. government and asked him what to do,” Damon Hall said. “He said, ‘Did you call 911?”
While they waited, they said the women continued to shout racist insults. There were no other customers in the restaurant. The owner and two managers, including the woman’s son, Pai Sripattra, were off duty as they typically are on Sundays.
The Halls said the woman “made monkey noises,” and said, at one point, “I bet if I served you bananas, you would have paid for it.”
But the restaurant’s management disputed that the employee would have insulted customers. At 70, they said, she had not ever displayed that kind of behavior. They said that the woman wasn’t making monkey noises, but was calling a delivery man who was in the restaurant by the name of Aaood to ask him to translate because she could not understand what the Halls were saying.
“I am conducting an internal investigation to see what happened because something like this is upsetting to me,” said restaurant owner C. Jonathan Wells, who is African American. “At this point we need to know what happened.”
He said the restaurant had been contacted by representatives from the Business Improvement District and the city. Late Wednesday, Wells called Damon Hall. They spoke briefly and Wells told him he was looking into the incident.
In an interview at the restaurant, Pai Sripattra said his mother had emigrated from Thailand in the late 1980s. He said her English is limited, so any misunderstanding resulted from that. He said she does not use profanity. He said as an Asian American, she has faced discrimination herself, so she would never project that onto others.
“Even here at the restaurant, people say things to us,” he said. “It is hurtful, but you keep going.”
He said she told him that she had been angered when Damon Hall threw his credit card at her and told her he “could buy the restaurant” if he wanted.
When a reporter asked to speak to Laor Sripattra, the managers said she doesn’t speak English well enough to be interviewed, so her son translated. She said Kim Hall had eaten at least half of the meal, so she told them they had to pay. She denied the Halls claims.
The Halls scoffed at the idea that Laor Sripattra did not speak English. They said she communicated clearly.
“That’s ridiculous,” Kim Hall said. “That’s what was so hurtful. I’m half Asian and to have her—an Asian woman—talk to us like that was even more insulting.”
Damon and Kim Hall said they reached out to Council members Phil Mendelson, Vincent Orange, Michael A. Brown, and Jim Graham on email. Graham’s office responded. Jackie Reyes, Graham’s Director of Latino Affairs and Community Outreach, confirmed that the Halls contacted the office and were referred to the District’s Office of Human Rights. A Mendelson staff assistant told the AFRO that she was unaware if the complaint had reached the office or if the councilman had read or responded to the complaint. Orange's chief of staff, Estell Mathis-Lloyd, was unavailable to comment when the AFRO called twice. Brown's office referred calls to Kilin Boardman-Schroyer, legislative director, who did not immediately respond to two voice mails.
Gustavo Velasquez, director of the Office of Human Rights, confirmed in an e-mail that the complaint had been filed. The incident would have to constitute a violation of one of the 19 protected clauses in the Human Rights Act and have occurred within the jurisdiction of the District for the agency to investigate, he said. The investigation, which could take up to six months, includes a three part process—interview, mediation and investigation. If probable cause is found and confirmed by OHR, penalties could result.
The Halls said they spoke out because they want her held accountable for the way they were treated.
“It was the most humiliating thing that has happened to me,” Kim Hall said.