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Owners of Haitian Food Truck Sue Virginia Town, Claiming Anti-Immigrant Prejudice and Discrimination – Legal Reader

“People don’t know how much I have suffered,” said plaintiff Clemene Bastien. “But I have to tell you, I suffered enormously as a result of all of this harassment.”

The owners of a Haitian food truck have filed a federal lawsuit against a town councilman in Virginia’s Eastern Shore, claiming that they have been subjected to significant and recurring acts of anti-immigrant discrimination.
According to The Virginian-Pilot, the lawsuit was filed last Tuesday on behalf of plaintiffs Theslet Benoir and Clemene Bastien, the owners of the Eben-Ezer Haitian Food Truck. In their complaint, lodged in a Norfolk-based federal court, the couple claim that Parksley Town Council member Harry Nicholson attempted to intimidate them, making repeated efforts to hurt their business before sponsoring a proposal to ban food trucks throughout his jurisdiction.
“When we first opened, there were a lot of people [ordering food],” Bastien said, speaking through a translator at a press conference. “And the day after, there were a lot of people.”
“And then,” she said, “they started harassing us.”
Bastien, writes the Virginian-Pilot, said that the alleged discrimination has harmed her mental and physical health. She can no longer earn a living through her food truck business, whereas her local customers have been unable to purchase meals they enjoy.
A gavel. Image via Wikimedia Commons via Flickr/user: Brian Turner. (CCA-BY-2.0).
“People don’t know how much I have suffered,” Bastien said. “But I have to tell you, I suffered enormously as a result of all of this harassment.”
In their lawsuit, Benoir and Bastien—a married couple—said that Nicholson’s proposed ban on food trucks was intended to target their business. And, after the ban was passed by the Parksley Town Council, they were purportedly threatened with fines and imprisonment for speaking up and trying to assert their rights.
Benoir and Bastien are being represented by the Institute of Justice, a law firm that The Associated Press says has since identified a “string of abuses” in the small Virginia town of about 800 people.
“If Theslet and Clemene were not of Haitian descent, Parksley’s town government would not have engaged in this abusive conduct,” the lawsuit alleges.
However, the town council and its own attorneys—from the Pender & Coward law firm—say that an internal investigation found that many of the couple’s allegations were “simply not true.” Benoir and Bastien, the town council says, had failed to even apply for a conditional use permit.
The food truck also allegedly made use of an “illegal sewage pipe,” which dumped grease into Parksley’s sewage system.
Instead of trying to work through the town’s legal process, attorneys say, the couple immediately filed a lawsuit.
“We expect to prevail once the evidence is presented,” Pender & Coward attorneys Anne Lahren and Richard Matthews said.
Some local government officials have also made comments in support of the town’s position. Jeff Parks, who serves on the Accomack County Board of Supervisors, told The Associated Press that Parksley has long “welcomed any business which operates within the rules.”
Parksley, the Associated Press observes, has lost two of its grocery stores, a bank, and a garment factory in recent decades.
“It’s disheartening to see a town that is so open to everyone and welcoming new businesses into its storefronts to be mischaracterized,” Parks said. “We have multiple Haitian businesses, so it wouldn’t make sense that this one was being targeted.”
But Benoir and Bastien’s complaint raises another point of concern, suggesting that Nicholson—the owner of a nearby appliance store—began taking action against their food truck after complaining that its presence would hurt restaurants that purchase equipment from his business.
After Nicholson disconnected the truck’s sewage or water line, Benoir and Bastien lost an estimated $1,300 in food product. And, the couple says, Nicholson later tried to block an incoming food shipment, telling them to “go back to [their] own country.”
“We’re waiting to see what justice we’re going to get,” Bastien said last Tuesday. “And then we’ll see if we reopen.”
The lawsuit seeks compensation for the $1,300 in spoiled food, financial losses, and attorneys’ fees, as well as $1 in nominal damages to recognize alleged violations of their constitutional rights.
Owners of shuttered Haitian food truck file civil rights lawsuit against Eastern Shore town, council member
They opened a Haitian food truck, then were told, ‘Go back to your own country,’ lawsuit says

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