Texas Restaurant Owner Appeals $5,000 Fine For Starting Gay Rumor

Frank's Place ruling gay sexualityA Texas restaurateur is asking the state Supreme Court to review a lower court ruling that let stand a $5,000 fine levied against her for publicly humiliating a loyal customer after she repeatedly questioned his sexuality and asserted that he was gay on numerous occasions.

Phong Van Meter, owner of Frank's Place in Alvarado, roughly 40 miles southwest of Dallas, filed a petition for review of a Court of Appeals decision in December that rejected her challenge to the lower court's ruling. Van Meter argued that sufficient evidence wasn't presented to allow the court to rule against her.

The case stems from a 2009 lawsuit filed by Bennie Dale Morris, a frequent diner at Van Meter's restaurant for some 20 years. Morris charged that Van Meter's repeated assertions and questions in 2007 and 2008 about his sexuality caused him mental anguish because they were defamatory, Courthouse News Service reports (via the Wisconsin Gazette).

Morris also claimed that his business, which, according to court documents involves "build[ing] driveways and spread[ing] sand for fixing yards around houses," saw a drop in business directly relegated to Van Meter's comments.

From the Courthouse News report:

When Morris was dining in the full restaurant, Van Meter would allegedly say to Morris, loud enough for other patrons to hear, "Where is your wife?" or "Where is your husband?"

Both comments allegedly referred to Morris' platonic friend, Glen Warren. Both men testified that they were not homosexual. Morris said that he asked Van Meter to stop asking the questions, but she refused.

In rejecting Van Meter's appeal, the Court of Appeals ruled there was sufficient evidence presented during a county court trial to prove that Van Meter's statements were slanderous.

The court further said "the record supports the trial court's findings that Morris' business sustained losses and Morris' reputation was harmed as a result of Van Meter's statements."

In addition to awarding Morris $5,000 in damages for mental anguish, the county court judge ordered Van Meter to stop "making or publishing defamatory, libelous and slanderous" statements against Morris, including that he and Warren were "homosexual partners or lovers."

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