A homeless man tried to buy breakfast at Burger King and ended up jailed for three months

A homeless man tried to buy breakfast at Burger King and ended up jailed for three months

You go to your favorite fast food restaurant expecting a quick service, delicious food and a  weird craving for exactly the same order two hours later for no reason whatsoever. The same can't be said, however, for Emory Ellis.

In 2015, Emory Ellis, a homeless man living in Boston, went to Burger King to buy breakfast. But rather than leaving with a Croissan’wich or Egg-normous Burrito, he left with the police, under arrest for purportedly attempting to pay with a counterfeit $10 bill.

Ellis ended up being charged with forgery of a bank note, and the arrest qualified as a violation of his probation, meaning he was subsequently jailed for three months without bail until his final hearing for the arrest could occur.

Burger King food Credit: Getty Images

As it happens, prosecutors also dropped their forgery charge at this final hearing - the Secret Service announced that Ellis’s $10 bill had definitely been real, so they had no case left. Ellis was released and has now filed an almost $1 million discrimination lawsuit against Burger King and the Boston franchise.

Ellis’s lawyer Justin Drechsler tells the Washington Post that if he, a white guy the exact same age as his client, had shown up with that same $10 bill, “nobody would have scrutinized it.” Drechsler imagines that he probably “never would have been accused of anything,” and “certainly wouldn’t have had the police called on me, no matter what the series of events.”

The lawsuit claims that Burger King’s cashier took Ellis’s money, announced it was fake, and refused to return it. He then threatened to call 911 if Ellis didn’t leave. Ellis argues that not only were three months of his life ultimately wasted, but that he also suffered considerable emotional distress and public humiliation that have since led to “sleeplessness, anxiety, and depression.”

The suit says that as a black man who was also homeless, Ellis got a double dose of discrimination. It begs the question, if this were to have happened in 2018 rather than 2015, would things have gone a different way - his treatment, of course, follows a litany of recent racist-seeming chain-restaurant incidents, from Starbucks, calling the cops on two black men in Philadelphia, to Waffle House having a black customer in his prom tux arrested and another black woman even locked out of a store. Saying that though he wouldn't be able to (some would argue rightfully) claim a lawsuit of one million dollars.

Burger King says the company doesn’t tolerate discrimination “of any kind,” but can’t comment because the litigation is ongoing. However, it also adds in a statement to the Associated Press that (just in case anyone’s wondering) proper employee training is entirely the franchisee’s responsibility.

Maybe Burger King could take a leaf out of Starbucks' book and employ some rigirous training. Whether or not this kind of approach will be effective is still yet to be seen - May 29, when Starbucks start their bias training, should provide good insight into what the future of structural discrimination could look like.