Gazette Ceases Publication: Donates Archives to LHS

In 2010, the Larchmont Gazette ceased publication. In 2011 the publishers donated all contents to the Larchmont Historical Society, which will continue to make the Gazette archives available online.

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Hiring Discrimination at Matsumoto? Suit, Protest & Possible Settlement

Was it a case of discrimination on the basis of race? Or was it some other factor that led to 17-year-old Abby Brammer, an African-American teen from Larchmont, not being hired by Marty Chen, manager of Matsumoto Restaurant in Larchmont?

Abby’s parents, Bradley and Kathy Brammer, filed suit against the manager and the owner of the restaurant on June 22, alleging a violation of Abby’s civil rights. Their witness is Rebecca Kitsis, a Caucasian friend from Mamaroneck High School, who was vacating the Matsumoto job as cashier, telephone order taker and hostess to focus on her studies.

When Rebecca told Mr. Chen about Abby over the phone on March 20, “He was very excited and glad to have me on the team,” Abby recalls. But when they met later that evening at the restaurant where Abby had begun training under Rebecca, “he was reluctant to even shake my hand,” she told the Gazette.

For the most part, Mr. Chen does not disagree with Rebecca’s narrative in the legal papers about what happened next:

After observing Abby work for less than fifteen minutes, Mr. Chen pulled Rebecca aside, told her he was not a racist, but said it would be bad for business to have Abby work there.

That’s illegal.” Rebecca recalls telling Mr. Chen.

Abby and Rebecca walked out of the restaurant, not waiting to be paid for the evening as Mr. Chen had offered.

Reaction to the Incident

According to Abby, Rebecca immediately contacted her uncle, an attorney, who recommended she take detailed notes of the encounter for a possible law suit. Going through the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was unsuccessful, but a suit was ultimately filed on Monday, June 22 with the help of attorney Joshua Friedman, whose daughter is a friend of Abby and Rebecca.

On Wednesday, June 25, Abby and 25-30 friends protested in front of Matsumoto holding signs, many of which called for a boycott.  Text messages from Abby had gone out over the weekend explaining about the discrimination lawsuit and that Mr. Friedman wanted her and her friends  to picket in front of the store.

Friends of Abby Brammer made signs and picketed outside Matsumoto against discrimination.

Friends of Abby Brammer made signs and picketed against discrimination outside Matsumoto. Photos by Andrew Wong.

“I wanted to help Abby out and support her in the case,” explained MHS senior Jonathan Williams, one of the protestors. “I wanted to stand up for what was right,” said Laura Glass-Johnston, another friend of Abby’s.

“I’m not a discrimination person,” said Mr. Chen, 35, a Hong Kong native in this country for 10 years. In an interview with the Gazette, he struggled for words to describe why he thought Abby would be fine as cashier, but not as hostess. Finally, Mr. Chen put on an expressionless face and cast his eyes down to demonstrate his view of her demeanor.  ”I had the feeling that she wasn’t comfortable greeting people or having conversations with the people,” he said.

“I kind of had a feeling that she’s not going to be compatible with the restaurant,” he said. “She was trying very hard, but she didn’t have the smile like a hostess.”  He recalled telling Rebecca,  “Maybe, I should have an Oriental feeling environment.”

All of the wait staff and sushi chefs at the restaurant come from Asian countries, but there are greeters from other nationalities and ethnic backgrounds.

Mr. Chen emphasized that he had not yet interviewed Abby nor even received an application from her when she began trying out for the job on March 20.  His typical procedure is to interview prospective applicants from a list, he said, showing a clipboard with names of job seekers.

Abby Brammer noted there are job openings at the restaurant where she was not hired.

As Abby Brammer points out, there are job openings at the restaurant where she was not hired.

Possible Settlement?

The Brammers’ suit calls for the defendants to pay Abby the wages she would have earned and to “compensate her for the loss of hope and the suffering and fear their illegal conduct has caused.”

Abby said she had been counting on the Matsumoto job to help pay for college. She has been accepted to Muhlenberg College with a $29,000 scholarship and received an additional $1,000 from the Mamaroneck Student Aid Fund,  but  she still needs another $15,000 to bridge the gap. Currently working  part-time at the Larchmont Yacht Club, she’s “looking for a second or maybe even a third job”  and may have to defer her college plans.

Mr. Chen has been speaking with an attorney and is awaiting advice on how the incident can be settled without further hurting the restaurant for something he may have done. “It’s only one manager doing something maybe improper,” he stressed, “it’s not the restaurant.”

Mr. Chen said he is very worried about the business.

The restaurant has already gone through a number of upheavals. Matsumoto took over the spot at 158 Larchmont Avenue in 2008, following a three decade run by Marimo and a very short incarnation as Sachi’s Sushi. Sachi’s closed after an altercation between the owner, Chang Zhu, and one of the waitresses. (See: Owner Arrested for Assault: Sachi Restaurant Remains Closed. ) The restaurant underwent a redesign – inside, outside and on the menu re-opening as the more upscale Matsumoto.

“I’m willing to hire all kinds of people,” said Mr. Chen.

Having Matsumoto show it does not discriminate by hiring African-American staff is an important consideration for Abby – and for the young people involved in the protest. A sign held by one of the picketers read: “Mamaroneck Won’t Stand for Discrimination.”

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5 comments to Hiring Discrimination at Matsumoto? Suit, Protest & Possible Settlement

  • Jay

    Good for them! The world would be a much better place without ignorant bigots. I can’t see how anyone would want to patronize an establishment like that, especially in 2009. It’s okay for us to elect an African-American President, but we can’t have one as a hostess? What a disgrace…Perhaps, Mr. Chen needs to realize that discrimination in this country is illegal…

  • Keep the peas

    i think there is a serious communication and language barrier at play here as well as a cultural issue – no pun intended. Mr. Chen needs to be brought up to speed.
    This owner is obviously clueless and doesn’t understand his customers….not to mention the democratic ideology of Americans as a whole. Larchmont has always exuded a progressive understanding of social and political nuances; and is hypersensitive to discrimination as a result of this. Unfortunately, Mr. Chen does not understand that wealth and education in this country and specifically this community translates into a public that recognizes that any type of discrimination is not a demonstration of snobbery nor socio-economic superiority, but rather ignorance, lack of sophistication and a demoralization of society as a whole. Once again, Larchmont raises the bar!!!

  • Ken Welsh

    If he was willing to hire her as a cashier but not as hostess, it follows that he probably has no problem with black people. He said that she lowers her eyes when she meets people. A hostess should should look into the eyes of a patron with joy. Why are we lynching this man. Why are all of these kid drones trying to ruin this man’s business? Did their parents put them up to this? I saw one kid in the photo that looked to be about eight years old. The rest of them looked wet behind the ears and having no idea what it is like to run a business.

  • next town over

    I run a business. And I have met this young woman. And I can say that she most certainly looks you in the eye. She is outgoing and personable and a delight to be around. And the fact that there are other young people coming out in support of her is a wonderful thing. These kids are the future, and it’s a comfort to know that they are willing to take a stand and show their support on a moral issue rather sitting apathetically back.

  • Ken Welsh

    “Next town over” Have you ever heard of the brown-shirt? These kids remind me of them..following the orders of their progressive parents. There is no proof that this man did anything wrong, yet a bunch of overprivileged kids are ruining his reputation and business. Let this go through the court system. It sounds to me like this young lady is looking for some financial help for college.