Five Columbia convenience stores north of downtown allow white, but not African-American customers, to use their store restrooms, according to a racial discrimination lawsuit filed this week in state court.
The suit, filed by Richland County resident Daniel Woodard, an African-American, alleges that last November, he went to all five convenience stores named in the suit, mostly to buy gasoline, and asked to use the restroom facilities, but “on each occasion, he was denied.”
The five convenience stores named are all along the North Main Street corridor, from the 4700 block to the 6100 block.
The lawsuit alleges that operators or employees at the store intentionally denied Woodard service because of his race. Such discrimination is unlawful in stores that serve the public, the lawsuit alleges.
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Before the lawsuit was filed, Woodard’s lawyers made a private investigation that “revealed that the defendants allowed white customers to use the restroom facilities when requested on one or more occasions,” the lawsuit said.
A worker at one of the stores Thursday morning denied that his store won’t let African-Americans use the restroom.
“We have never discriminated on the basis of color. All kinds of people come in here, and we give the same service to everybody,” said Singh Kanwaljeet, a cashier at El Cheapo convenience store, at 4701 N. Main St. He is not named in the lawsuit.
The lawsuit says that under federal law, the convenience stores are public accomodations, and that health regulations require such stores to maintain functioning restrooms that are accessible to all customers equally.
The suit was filed in state court in Richland County. It asks for at least $5 million in damages, plus fees. Woodard’s lawyers are Glenn Walters of Orangeburg and Hemphill Pride II of Columbia.
Named defendants in the lawsuit are Rania Alquzah, owner of Ranis Mart City Gas, 6132 N. Main St.; Pagan Dhillion, owner of C.K. Acquisitions’ El Cheapo, 4701 N. Main St.; Lawton Diamond, owner of Winnsboro Petroleum’s Pops Shell Station, 4905 N. Main St.; Alhanik Murad, owner of Alhanik’s Obama Convenience Store, 5831 N. Main St.; and Sukhwinperpal Singh, owner of Cheapway’s El Cheapo, 5901 N. Main St.