Feds Accuse Bar Of Charging Cover Fees To Non-White Customers

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Federal law prohibits restaurants and bars from discriminating against customers on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin, but prosecutors say a popular Houston bar actively discouraged non-white customers by, among other practices, demanding cover charges that were not required of white customers.

This is according to a lawsuit [PDF] filed last week by the Justice Department against the operators of 360 Midtown, formerly known as Gaslamp.

Prosecutors say that since at least Oct. 2014, the bar and its accompanying nightclubs charged entrance fees to black, Asian, and hispanic customers while allowing white customers to enter without paying.

The government claims that it knows of several instances over the last two years where the bar allegedly charged fees of $10 to $20 a person, but only to non-white customers.

The complaint gives the example of a group of four Asian-American customers being charged $10 each to enter in Nov. 2014. These customers say they then saw bar employees demanding similar fees from African-American patrons while allowing white customers to enter without paying.

Prosecutors also point to a Sept. 2015 incident where three African-American customers were asked to pay $20 each. These people say they subsequently witnessed other minority customers being turned away if they didn’t pay the same fee, while white customers allegedly entered for free.

In addition to the alleged fee, the DOJ says that Gaslamp staff unevenly applied dress code requirements on customers based on their race. Some non-white customers told prosecutors that they were denied entrance to the bar — which had no dress code posted — because of the way they were dressed, while white customers were permitted entrance to the bar wearing similar attire. Additionally, notes the complaint, Gaslamp had posted photos on social media of white customers dressed in the same style as the customer who supposedly failed to meet the dress code.

This alleged discrimination wasn’t a case of rogue front-door employees, claims the DOJ, which accuses one of the bar’s owners of creating this policy and using racial epithets when instructing employees on the practice.

An attorney for the bar recently denied the allegations to the WSJ Law Blog, claiming that “As a business matter, Gaslamp has discretion to assess a cover charge for groups of men entering its business, for patrons who seek to enter its exclusive upper levels, and does so regardless of race.”

The DOJ action follows a civil lawsuit filed against the bar owners in Oct. 2015 by a group of customers who said they were unlawfully discriminated against.

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