Emory Ellis, a black homeless man in Boston, went to Burger King for breakfast and tried to pay with a $10 bill. That simple transaction in November 2015 led to a series of mistakes that landed Ellis in jail for more than three months, reports the AP. It started with the cashier, who accused Ellis, 37, of paying with a counterfeit bill and called police. The police took Ellis to jail and charged him with forgery. Ellis was on probation and the arrest violated that probation, so he was denied bail. The whole thing was cleared up in February 2016 when the Secret Service determined that the bill was real. Now Ellis is suing Burger King Corp., the franchisee, and the cashier for $950,000 in damages. The case was first reported by Law360.
Ellis’s attorney, Justin Dreschler, tells the AP that the entire incident was due to Ellis’ race and overall appearance. “A [white] person like me would’ve gotten an apology,” says Dreschler, or at the very least, a cashier who simply refused to accept the bill instead of calling police. “But a person like Emory somehow finds his way in handcuffs for trying to pay for his breakfast with real money.” (The lawsuit claims Ellis never even got the $10 bill back.) Neither Burger King nor the franchisee have commented. The incident adds to a growing national dialogue on how people of color are treated in everyday situations. In other recent incidents, police have been called on black people at a Starbucks, a golf club, an LA Fitness, an Airbnb rental home, a Nordstrom Rack, and a black student napping in a Yale common room. (Read more homeless stories.)