February 15, 1998 in Nation/World

After Filing Lawsuit, Black Town Finally Gets Pizza Delivery Surrounding Vicinities Served, But Firm Claimed Area Not Safe

New York Times
 

To get from the nearest Domino’s Pizza franchise to the affluent seaside resort of Amelia Island Plantation, Fla., you have to pass through American Beach, a tiny enclave where all but four of the 75 residents are black.

So it was a surprise to James and Joyce Robinson when they learned that residents in Amelia Island Plantation could get a Domino’s pizza delivered at home, but they and their American Beach neighbors had to go to a convenience store in town and wait for their Domino’s delivery.

Power Pizza Inc., which operates the Domino’s franchise in nearby Fernandina Beach, believed that American Beach was not a safe area for home delivery.

In November, the Robinsons sued Power Pizza Inc., alleging racial discrimination.

And Wednesday, Judge Harvey Schlesinger of the U.S. District Court in Jacksonville issued a preliminary injunction ordering the franchise to provide home delivery to American Beach as long as pizza continued to be delivered to Amelia Island Plantation.

The next day, Domino’s started home delivery to American Beach. Robinson ordered the first pizza, with pepperoni.

The Robinsons’ lawyer, Gray Thomas, hailed the judge’s ruling as a partial but important victory.

But Robinson, who settled in American Beach 12 years ago after retiring from his job in the New York state Education Department in Albany, was more subdued.

“A lot of people were happy for me, but I didn’t look at it that way,” he said in a telephone interview. “It reminded me in a bittersweet way of the civil rights movement, but I thought those days were gone away.”

Indeed, American Beach residents said they did not recall similar instances of reputed discrimination in recent years.

“This is something new for us,” said Anette Myers, a retired school counselor who has lived in American Beach for more than 30 years. “There is just this one particular incident.”

Workers from the Domino’s franchise referred questions to lawyers for Power Pizza but they were unavailable for comment Saturday. In a sworn affidavit, the company said that its own investigation and discussions with some local lawenforcement officials had led the company to believe there was a risk for delivery employees. But the company said that its delivery patterns were not racially discriminatory.

Schlesinger said the company had not offered sufficient evidence to show that the town was unsafe, and he quoted the local county sheriff, Ray Geiger, as saying, “I would feel comfortable to deliver there, as good as I would anywhere else.”

American Beach was initially settled in the 1930s as a seaside resort for those who were forbidden to enter white neighborhoods, and over the years, residents say, the hamlet has retained much of its original character while the surroundings have been transformed.

There is now a Ritz-Carlton hotel just outside town, and, as other resorts pop up, affluent, predominantly white tourists have flocked to nearby towns.

“They were delivering pizza all around us,” Robinson said. “It really made me feel sad even after I won.”


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