A Florida woman who says she and her boyfriend were forced to eat at a “villa” restaurant after her husband and children were detained for not paying their bills was awarded $3 million in a Florida court.
The money was announced Wednesday by U.S. District Judge David E. Gee.
“We were shocked and confused,” said Michelle Gee, who lives in Florida with her husband, who works for a Florida tourism company.
“Our marriage is not about money.
It’s about dignity and security.”
The couple, who say they have two children, moved to Florida from Virginia two years ago.
The couple said they had trouble paying their credit card bills because the restaurant was charging them more than they were owed.
They were told that they would be forced to go to a bank, and that if they didn’t pay they would lose their jobs.
“My husband and I are not homeless,” said Gee in an interview with the News-Press of Palm Beach County.
“If we’re going to live like this, we’re not going to do it for free.”
They said the couple was not given any time to explain why they were being detained.
When they went to the restaurant to pay for their bill, Gee said he and his wife were told by a receptionist that they had to go through a metal detector and a metal plate before they could get their meal.
“I was stunned,” said Patricia Gee of Florida.
“This is what they’re doing to people that have nothing to do with it?”
Gee was not immediately available for comment.
The woman, identified only as J.S., was in a dispute with the restaurant over the late payment.
She said she had to be put in a metal-detection room where she said she was told she could not eat.
She did not give her name for fear of retaliation from the restaurant.
She later filed a lawsuit against the restaurant and its owner, saying that the company did not follow proper procedures.
The lawsuit said the woman was forced to work more than 40 hours a week, with no vacation days.
She also was told that her husband would be fired for not working.
“She was never given any choice but to go and pay the bill,” Patricia Gie said.
Geez, the lawsuit said, then told the receptionist she would go back to work after her court appearance on June 1.
GEE did not specify how long the restaurant had been operating.
He did say the restaurant did not have to meet the requirements of the federal government’s Wage and Hour law.
He ordered the restaurant, Villas, LLC, to provide a written notice to customers who paid for their meals, and to provide $1,000 in cash refunds.
Villas is based in Florida’s Tarpon Springs and operates under a non-profit registration, which was approved by the State Department of Agriculture.
“The Villas owners violated a federal law that requires them to provide food assistance to their customers and provide a reasonable accommodation to the homeless,” the lawsuit states.
“Villas failed to provide that accommodation.
It was then that the family became homeless.”
The lawsuit states that the Gees, who had no income and no credit history, were forced by Villas to spend more than 42 hours at the restaurant each day.
The family was placed in a shelter for two months because of the “severe and prolonged hardships.”
Gee ordered the company to provide the woman and her children with food assistance for six months, and for six more months after that, and also ordered the owners to provide her and her family with $1.2 million in cash, plus an additional $400,000 from the state.
Gees order also ordered that the owners and the Gees “take all reasonable steps to provide shelter and other food assistance” to the family.
The Gee’s lawsuit was filed in U.N. District Court in Miami on May 30.
“Villas’ failure to provide adequate shelter for the Geez family, the GEEs, and their dependents was outrageous and unreasonable,” the complaint states.
The company’s attorneys did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.