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Court orders Sizzler to pay assault victim

Sizzler in Forest Hills will pay Liza Friedlander (inset) after a court ruled in favor of the transgender woman following a 2010 assault.
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A Forest Hills Sizzler has been ordered to pay $25,000 to a transgender woman after a court ruled that staff and diners had attacked her because of her sexual orientation during an incident in September 2010.

Liza Friedlander alleged that the restaurant’s manager, Edgar Orellana, accused her of not paying for her meal and began verbally abusing her. According the suit filed in Queens civil court, the manager eventually knocked her down with a shove to the chest and began kicking her and yelling anti-gay epithets.

The suit further alleged that the manager’s actions incited other diners to verbally abuse Friedlander.

“I felt like I understood what it must have felt like to be a black person in the 1950s and be told you can’t drink from a water fountain or ride the bus,” said Friedlander, who said the incident pushed her to move out of Forest Hills and into Manhattan. “It started with one person and that person was the catalyst to all of these ignorant mentalities. It was the scariest situation I’ve ever been in.”

According to Friedlander, the manager’s actions set off a “frenzy of hateful chants,” including patrons calling her a “he/she freak” and a “dyke.” Many demanded she leave the restaurant and one patron threatened her with sexual assault.

Orellana said at the time that Friedlander instigated the incident and that he retreated to his office to call the police. The manager could not be reached for comment.

The restaurant’s principal owner, Waroge Met Ltd., could not be reached for comment ,

Natalie Chin, attorney for Lambda Legal, which represented Friedlander, said the victory was less about money and more about holding the perpetrators responsible.

“Liza Friedlander experienced violence, discrimination and degradation at this restaurant because she did not conform to the stereotypes of how a woman should look,” Chin said. “The result sends a strong message: Violent and discriminatory behavior motivated by bias against lesbians, gay men, bisexuals or transgender people will not be tolerated. Businesses are not exempt from treating LGBT people with dignity and respect.”

Chin said the judgment ruled in her client’s favor mainly because state and city human rights laws are robust and routinely protect against discrimination cases such as this.

She also said her client is happy to put the incident behind her.

“If this would have (gone) to trial, it would have dragged on for years,” she said. “This wasn’t about making millions of dollars — it was about demonstrating that businesses cannot discriminate and get away with it.”

While she did fear for her life, Friedlander said the incident did turn into a positive experience in her life.

“I feel like pursuing the case was worth the effort in the end,” she said. “It’s not OK for this to happen and you can stand up for yourself and your voice can be heard if you persevere.”

Reach reporter Steve Mosco by e-mail at smosco@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

Posted 7:25 pm, June 20, 2012
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