NAACP sues Friendly’s franchisee, parent over Black Bike Week

MYRTLE BEACH S.C. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and other parties have sued Friendly Ice Cream Corp. and a franchisee of its Friendly’s restaurant chain for closing a unit’s interior dining areas during the annual Black Bike Week festivals that were held here from 2000 through 2005.

The plaintiffs allege that the partial closings are discriminatory because the motorcycle rally is the only occasion each year when the majority of tourists in the Myrtle Beach area are African-American. The NAACP said in a statement that thousands of white motorcyclists and tourists visit Myrtle Beach in mid-May for an event known as Harley Week. One week later, the organization said, a similar number of African-American tourists visit for Black Bike Week.

The restaurant remained fully open for business during Harley Week, but shut its dining room and offered only “inferior” outdoor services during Black Bike Week, the NAACP asserted. It said the outlet offered only a limited menu during Black Bike Week, but the full Friendly’s bill of fare during Harley Week.

The NAACP is joined in the suit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court in Florence, S.C., by the Conway, S.C., branch of the association and a resident of Baltimore who tried to eat inside the unit during the 2005 Black Bike Week. The plaintiffs seek unspecified damages for civil rights violations.

The NAACP said that it and the other plaintiffs had tried to resolve the matter through negotiations with the chain for two years.   

Angela Ciccolo, interim general counsel for the NAACP, said in the statement that the “degrading second-class treatment harkens back to an era when restaurant lunch counters were reserved for whites only.

“Such practices send a clear message to African Americans that they are separate and unequal,” she said.

Aspokeswoman for Wilbraham, Mass.-based Friendly Ice Cream said the NAACP’s lawsuit was without merit.

“We want to assure our customers that Friendly's takes all matters regarding discrimination very seriously,” the spokeswoman said. “We have an absolute zero tolerance policy toward any discriminatory treatment of any guest at any of our restaurants.  We value each and every customer and are committed to treating them with all of the respect that they deserve at every location they choose to visit.”

Randy Knox, manager of the franchised Myrtle Beach store named in the lawsuit, acknowledged that he had seen the suit but said he had no comment.

The NAACP has filed previous lawsuits against restaurants in the area for their allegedly discriminatory practices during Black Bike Week. Last year, settlements were reached with Damon’s Oceanfront and Barefoot Landing, Greg Norman’s Australian Grill, the Yachtsman Resort Hotel and J. Edward's Great Ribs and More.

In addition, numerous discrimination complaints have been filed with the South Carolina Human Affairs Commission against other Myrtle Beach area businesses.