Owner of Portland nightclubs settles lawsuit accusing him of discrimination
PORTLAND, OR (KPTV) — The owner of several nightclubs in downtown Portland, has settled a lawsuit that accuses him of discriminating.
The lawsuit, filed by local event promoter Sam Thompson, states he wasn’t let into one of those bars because he is black.
FOX 12 spoke to owner Christopher Lenahan on the phone on Wednesday. Lenahan said the claims are fabricated and many employees and people inside his clubs are people of color. But according to the now settled lawsuit, more than just one instance of discrimination took place.
In May of 2017, Thompson said he wore an outfit with a red sweatshirt and red shoes to Dirty Nightclub. He claims the staff there that night told him he couldn’t come in because he was violating their posted dress code.
“They said cause I had on too much red. I said, ‘So what does that mean?’ And they’re like, ‘Red are gang colors.’ And I was like, ‘Well, I’m not a gang member, so that really shouldn’t be an issue,’” Thompson told FOX 12. “I really left feeling a certain kind of way after that.”
One year later, May 2018, Thompson filed a lawsuit against Lenahan and his company that owns Dirty, VegasStars. It claims Dirty used its dress code policy as an excuse to turn Thompson away because he is black.
“Unwritten rule, we kinda know that certain places downtown use dress codes to arbitrarily enforce them to keep a certain demographic of people out. Namely, African American men,” Thompson said.
Lenahan did not want to go on camera, but told FOX 12, these claims are unfounded and don’t make sense.
Lenahan said the majority of people who operate and go to his venues are people of color.
But according to court documents, a former bar manager stated in his deposition, Lenahan would “liberally use the ‘n-word’” and control the number of people of color entering the club.
Also in court papers, a former bar manager stated in his declaration it was his responsibility to let managers know if “the ‘color of the club’ was changing.” He also claimed Lenahan said they needed to “keep the Black and African-American customers at no more than 30% of the total crowd.”
“It’s a war on hip-hop, it’s a war on black culture. Downtown, it’s just always been like that, you know. We’ve never fully felt comfortable downtown,” Thompson said.
Lenahan said these claims are fabricated. He understands Thompson’s grievances about the dress code, but he says it’s only there to protect everyone.
“For me, it wasn’t about the money. I originally went into this to get the policy change,” Thompson said. “Hopefully, it is something that gets the attention of the clubs downtown, and lets them know that they can’t use discriminatory dress codes to arbitrarily enforce them on a certain demographic of folks.”
Thompson and Lenahan recently settled out of court, just as they were preparing for a trial.
Thompson originally asked for more than one million dollars. FOX 12 did not learn how much they settled for, but Thompson says he is satisfied.