Bartender suing McFadden's says others back his story

Posted: November 19, 2010

The bartender who sued McFadden's in Old City for alleged racial discrimination says that a former co-worker backs up his claims, according to recently filed court documents that also cite a similar lawsuit in Kentucky against one of the bar's sister establishments.

Bartender Michael Bolden, who also works as a lawyer, alleged in a suit filed last week that McFadden's fosters a culture in which "racism and racial segregation are not only tolerated, but mandated."

Among other things, Bolden cited text messages from general manager Walt Wyrsta to another manager, one of which read, "We don't want black people we are a white bar!" according to the suit.

In a response to the suit, McFadden's claims that Bolden was assigned to the back bar because he wasn't outgoing. The filing calls the messages from Wyrsta, whom McFadden's has suspended, "offensive," but says that they don't demonstrate that McFadden's denied access or service to blacks.

A reply filed Wednesday by Bolden's attorney claims that a former employee who worked as a security guard, bartender and host from 2006 to 2009 witnessed racial discrimination.

Jolon Budd said that Wyrsta told him and other black employees to shave their beards because they looked "too intimidating."

When Budd's Wednesday shifts were taken away in 2009, he asked Wyrsta if he could bartend another night, to which Wyrsta said: "Come on, you know you're not black Irish. There's no room for you at the bar," according to the suit.

Bolden's suit also names New York-based East Coast Saloons as a defendant, saying that it is the parent company of McFadden's. But in the bar's filing Tuesday, Harry Hayman, listed as McFadden's director of operations, says that East Coast Saloons has no affiliation with the bar.

Bolden's response offers examples to refute Hayman's claim, including a campaign-donation report in which Hayman lists his occupation as director of operations for East Coast Saloons.

Bolden's reply also cites McFadden's website, which lists 23 other bars and restaurants as "our locations" across the country, claiming that they are all run by the New York company.

Included on the website's list is Maker's Mark Lounge, in Louisville, Ky., which is facing a lawsuit from a white woman who claims to have repeatedly complained about racial discrimination, according to Bolden's reply.

In a deposition in that case, the plaintiff, Kiersten Trover-Gillam, claims that Hayman told her that "we don't like a dark crowd in here," and that the East Coast Saloons' model was to attract hot girls or a predominantly white college crowd.

Trover-Gillam said that another manager, Pam Killian, was transferred to another East Coast Saloons bar, Tavern on Broad, in Philadelphia, after the Kentucky lawsuit was filed. Killian told her that the East Coast Saloons' practices were not racist but rather "good marketing policy," according to the reply. A message left last night for Killian at Tavern on Broad, at Walnut Street, was not returned.

A woman who answered the phone last night at East Coast Saloons' headquarters would not say what restaurants or companies with which it is affiliated. An employee who answered the phone at McFadden's, on 3rd Street near Willow, said that Hayman was working yesterday, but he didn't return a message left for him by the Daily News. A call to McFadden's attorney also was not returned.

McFadden's also operates at Citizens Bank Park. Phillies spokeswoman Bonnie Clark said in an e-mailed statement that her organization was not in a position to know the accuracy of the allegations.

"However, we view the issues involved as serious and will carefully review and monitor this matter to determine whether it will have an impact on our relationship with McFadden's," she said.

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