On a Saturday last October, Raymond Ortega and Toni Llerena stopped to order some food at the Burger King Whopper Bar in South Beach. They were sitting down with their meals when an employee, who said that
Ortega and Llerena protested. No one around them was being asked to leave, and the restaurant was still open for another hour and a half. The employee shouted back, saying something to the effect of, "Y'all need to leave. You're a bunch of faggots."
A security guard stepped in and repeated the slur. Then, "within seconds and without any cause for escalation," the guard attacked and pepper-sprayed Ortega and Llerena. Ortega says he was repeatedly punched in the face — so hard he left the restaurant with a broken jaw.
Ortega, a gay man, and Llerena, a transgender woman, are now suing Burger King for negligence and unlawful use of force. The lawsuit claims the incident on October 13, 2018, at the BK location at 1101 Washington Ave. was a clear instance of discrimination.
"My clients are victims of a hate crime," says Matthew Ladd, a Coral Gables attorney who filed the case. "There's no doubt about it."
Burger King's corporate office did not respond to New Times' request for comment.
Ladd says Burger King has confirmed there is security footage of the episode involving Ortega and Llerena. The attorney believes customers might have also filmed parts of the attack. According to a spokesman, Miami Beach Police responded to the scene that day but did not take a report. (Ladd says Ortega and Llerena fled the restaurant when they heard police were coming because they feared they would be mistakenly arrested.)
The lawsuit is not the first time the South Beach Burger King has been in the news for anti-gay discrimination. In March 2016, a gay couple said they were attacked by other customers after kissing at the restaurant. Some witnesses later disputed that account.
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Ladd says the incident involving his clients suggests Burger King hires "impulsive, violent bigots."
"That location is two doors down from Twist, one of Miami's most famous gay bars," Ladd says. "Are they not doing a good job of screening their employees to make sure they're not bigots, especially to that clientele?"
Although no charges were filed immediately after the incident, Ladd says Ortega and Llerena plan to take the case to law enforcement after they receive the security footage and employees' names through the lawsuit.
"We plan to hold them all to account," Ladd says. "As soon as we identify them, we plan to do everything we can."