Mass. AG brings civil rights lawsuit against restaurant

By Bryan Cohen | Aug 15, 2011


BOSTON (Legal Newsline) - Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley announced a lawsuit on Monday against a Dorchester, Mass., restaurant and bar and its owner for alleged civil rights and public accommodations violations.

The lawsuit alleges that Peggy O'Neil's engaged in a pattern of not allowing customers of color to enter and use the bar.

"We allege that Peggy O'Neil's engaged in discriminatory and unlawful conduct," Coakley said. "No one who lives, works or visits Massachusetts should be subjected to discrimination. All businesses must ensure that appropriate anti-discrimination policies are posted and adhered to within their establishments."

Coakley alleges that in December, two men of Cape Verdean and African-American descent went to Peggy O'Neil's and waited in line with other customers as staff allowed numerous Caucasian customers to enter the bar in front of them. Caron O'Neil, Peggy O'Neil's owner, working alongside bar staff, allegedly said to the group, "This is your first time here, huh?" and informed them they could not get in because it was too late.

O'Neil allegedly told the group she did not "want any trouble," that she did not know them and that they should find another place to go. At the same time, several white customers were allegedly allowed to enter the bar.

Later that evening, a second group of friends of Spanish, African-American and Cape Verdean descent went to the bar and were also allegedly denied entry by the staff of the bar. After providing their identification cards to the bouncer, the bouncer allegedly asked them if they knew the owner of the bar and who they were there to see. Allegedly at the same time, other Caucasian customers were allowed to enter the bar, many of whom appeared to be intoxicated.

According to the lawsuit, O'Neil told the group they couldn't come into the bar because they didn't know the owner of the bar. She allegedly said to them "You don't look like the type of people" the owner would know and "We don't like people of your kind here" among other statements. The lawsuit further alleges that in April, a third group of persons of color were denied entry to the bar and were treated in a similar fashion.

Coakley's lawsuit is seeking civil penalties, monetary damages and permanent injunctive relief, in addition to a preliminary injunction requiring the defendants and the bar's staff to comply with state and federal anti-discrimination and consumer protection laws. The suit also requests that the bar's staf undergo anti-discrimination training and implement an approved anti-discrimination policy.

This civil rights action was brought under the Massachusetts Public Accommodation Law, which prohibits places of public accommodation from limiting use or restricting entry or enjoyment of such locations to persons on the basis of their race, and the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act, which outlaws deceptive and unfair practices in commerce or trade.

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