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Federal jury rules against couple who sued Arkansas steakhouse over social-distancing brawl

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — A jury has ruled against a Black couple who sued a Little Rock steakhouse over a fight the couple had with white customers who weren't wearing masks and stood too close during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The federal jury on Monday found no negligence or racial discrimination by Saltgrass Steakhouse. Shayla Hooks and Tyrome Jackson sued the restaurant over the brawl in 2020, which was caught on cellphone video and widely shared on social media.

The couple's lawsuit said they was sitting in the restaurant’s bar area when a group of people from a Louisiana tour bus entered and asked if they could sit close to them, despite social distancing restrictions. At the time, Arkansas allowed bars and restaurants to open but with capacity limits and distancing rules.

The lawsuit said the restaurant’s staff didn’t intervene as the customers harassed and intentionally stood near the couple even though Jackson said he didn’t want them sitting nearby because of COVID-19.

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After a five day trial, the jury began deliberations late Friday afternoon after and continued on Monday before delivering its verdict.

“Plaintiffs and their counsel should be ashamed that they even filed this lawsuit,” Keith Bayko, Staff Counsel for Landry's Inc., the steakhouse chain's parent company. "We were not willing to pay plaintiffs and their counsel a nickel because this was a ridiculous lawsuit and knew we had done nothing wrong.”

Mike Laux, an attorney for the couple, did not say whether they planned to appeal. Attorneys for the couple sought sanctions against Saltgrass' attorneys, accusing them of “discovery abuses” for not providing evidence and information in a timely manner before the trial.

Saltgrass denied the claims and asked that the request be dismissed. Court records show the motion was terminated on May 17.

___

This story has been updated to correct that a motion for sanctions against Saltgrass' attorneys was no longer pending in court

Andrew Demillo, The Associated Press