He Tried to Buy Breakfast at Burger King — He Ended Up Spending 3 Months in Jail

Ellis’s lawsuit accuses the cashier of “plainly discriminating” against him. Photo: Steven Senne/AP/REX/Shutterstock

In 2015, Emory Ellis, a homeless man living in Boston, went to Burger King to buy breakfast. But rather than 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.

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. (His treatment of course follows a litany of recent racist-seeming chain-restaurant incidents, from Starbucks calling the cops on two black men in Philly, to Waffle House having a black customer in his prom tux arrested and another black woman even locked out of a store.)

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 AP that, just in case anyone’s wondering, proper employee training is entirely the franchisee’s responsibility.

A Black Burger King Customer Was Sent to Jail for 3 Months