Saturday, September 26, 2015

With a $400,000 penalty Oregon tells business owners that discrimination is unacceptable

Christopher Penner
via Facebook
On Wednesday an appeals court upheld a ruling by Oregon's Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) that a bar owner was guilty of discrimination. The court found that Christopher Penner, owner of the bar formerly known as P Club, violated Oregon law. What? You think that discrimination in Oregon is limited to Sweet Cakes by Melissa? Idiots abound.

This case stemmed from two voice-mail messages that Penner left on June 18, 2012 for Cassandra Lynn, founder of Rose City T-Girls, a gay, transgender and transsexual social club. Penner told Lynn that the club was unwelcome on Friday nights because their presence was “hurting business a lot” as customers referred the club as a “tranny” or “gay” bar. He should be so lucky.


BOLI ordered Blachana LLC and Penner to pay $400,000 to the 11 aggrieved persons. BOLI also imposed $3,000 in civil penalties on Blachana LLC and $2,000 on Penner personally. The bar closed in 2014. The LLC probably fails to protect Penner from personal liability due to the fact that the underlying action is unlawful conduct.

Penner's lawyer, Jonathan Radmacher, said that Penner did not take a religious position and had no intention to discriminate. It is an odd statement from a highly accomplished attorney. It may reflect questions that he was asked by reporters. Otherwise odd because a religious basis for discrimination is not a required element of discrimination. Furthermore, intent is not only irrelevant but, in this case, it is clear that he did intend to preclude patrons based on their status as LGBT citizens.

I suspect that Mr. Penner could have made this go away. Early in the process sincere apologies and some free drinks might have ended the controversy. But this guy was wed to the belief that LGBT patrons are bad for business. That conclusion might very well be based on personal prejudice rather than the calculus of commerce.

Oregon keeps sending a message that unlawful discrimination can be very expensive. Hopefully business owners are listening.

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