Oregon bar owner told to pay $400,000 to transgender patrons he says hurt his business
PORTLAND, Oregon, September 24, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – For the second time this year, an Oregon business has been hit with an enormous fine for allegedly violating the state's so-called "non-discrimination" law related to sexuality.
In April, Aaron and Melissa Klein were fined $135,000 for not providing a wedding cake for a same-sex ceremony. The Kleins had served at least one of the women in other capacities but declined to participate in the "wedding," so they were prosecuted by the state.
Now a Portland bar owner is being told by the same bureaucracy that targeted the Kleins that he must pay $400,000 to 11 transgender men who caused him to lose business.
In 2012, Chris Penner, owner of the Twilight Room Annex, told 11 people – including 10 men who identify as women – to stop coming into his place of business. After nearly two years of their business, Penner left a voice message telling them not to come back because they were driving away customers.
The "T-Girls" filed a complaint with the Oregon Bureau of Labor & Industry (BOLI), because – according to court documents – Penner said in his message, "People think that a) we're a tranny bar or b) we're a gay bar. We are neither. People are not coming in because they just don't want to be here on a Friday night now."
Penner actually made two calls to Cass Lynn, who is part of the T-Girls. In the first, he said that "unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond my control I am going to have to ask for you, Cass, and your group to not come back on Fridays. I really don't like have to do that, but unfortunately it's the area we're in and it's hurting business a lot."
"If you have any questions, please feel free to give me a call. Again, I'm really sorry about having to do this, but give me a call," said Penner. Lynn did call back, asking for the "real reason" for Penner's request.
"There is no underlying reason for asking you folks not to come back other than money," Penner said in a second call. "Sales on Friday nights have been declining at the bar for the last 18 months. ... I own another bar in north Portland; sales are doing great on Fridays, and so I've done some investigating as to why my sales are declining and there's two things I keep hearing: people think that a) we're a tranny bar or b) we're a gay bar."
"We are neither," said Penner. "People are not coming in because they just don't want to be there on a Friday night now. In the beginning, sales were doing fine, but they've been on a steady decrease, so I have to look at what the problem is, what the reason is, and take care of it. That's my job as the owner. So unfortunately, I have to do what I have to do and that is the only reason. It's all about money."
Penner has since clarified that the T-Girls were leaving stall doors open in the women's restrooms and left seats up on toilets. Penner says that he used to host a weekly dance night for gay customers, and a gay pool team used to practice at his bar. But the complaints by customers against the T-Girls caused him to take action.
NBC News reports that Penner's attorney, Jonathan Radmacher, said the owner might keep fighting BOLI, even though this decision was expected. "Originally, the Rose City T-Girls approached his business and asked if this is going to be a problem, and they said, 'No,'" Radmacher said on Wednesday. "In essence, he was going back to them and saying, 'This is a problem for my business.' We think he's got a constitutional right to make that inquiry."
BOLI had given originally given the fine in 2013; this week's decision was related to Penner's appeal, which Radmacher says he knew was unlikely to succeed.
The Appeals Court said in its decision, "Because all of respondents' arguments are unpreserved, undeveloped, or unavailing in light of BOLI's factual findings, we affirm" the original decision by BOLI. Additionally, "because respondents do not challenge BOLI's findings of fact, those findings are the facts for purposes of judicial review."
The state's 2007 "non-discrimination" law says that "sexual orientation" and "gender" are protected statuses. The Kleins were found guilty despite denying service on the basis of the lesbian couple's chosen relationship and chosen ceremony, not their sexual orientation.