PORTLAND, Ore. – A Portland bar owner was ordered to pay $400,000 in damages to a group of transgender customers after telling them they weren’t welcome in his bar, according to the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries.
That violated an Oregon law that prohibits discrimination based on gender, sexual orientation or gender identity, state officials ruled.
BOLI investigators said Christopher Penner, owner of The P Club, last summer called a patron named Cassandra and told her and her friends to “not come back on Friday nights.”
Cassandra and her friends were members of a group called the “T-Girls,” which includes transgender people. BOLI found that Penner called back a few days later and said that his bar was losing money when her group was around because people thought The P Club was a “tranny bar” or a “gay bar.”
“The P Club’s decline in Friday night sales between January 2011 and June 2012 is not a defense, and no evidence was presented to show that the T-Girls had caused any other problems at the P Club that might have justified Penner’s decision to ask them not to return on Friday nights,” deputy labor commissioner Christie Hammond wrote in her findings on the case.
The P Club has since changed its name. It is now known as The Twilight Room Annex. The bar is located on N. Lombard Street.
Penner does not want to speak publicly about the ruling, according to his attorney, Jonathan Radmacher.
Radmacher said Penner was "not surprised in the least" about the ruling.
"We think it's wrong, but we thought it was wrong from the get-go," Radmacher said.
He admits that Penner left the voicemails in a "stupid way," but contends that Penner's intention was never to exclude the T-Girls from his bar.
He pointed out that Penner had let them in his bar for four years without incident. Radmacher said Penner and the club had an informal agreement to discuss if there were ever issues with them hanging out at The P Club, and this incident was Penner trying to have a dialogue.
"He's not anti-LGBT. He doesn't want to be a poster child for somebody who is going to oppose all races, genders, etc. from coming into places of public accommodation," Radmacher said.
Penner can file an appeal but hasn't yet decided if he will or not.
If the ruling stands, the $400,000 in damages will be paid to 11 members of the “T-Girls” who testified at the case hearing. Each member will receive between $20,000 and $50,000, depending on how much state officials determined they suffered.
Cassandra, the woman who received the voice mails from Penner, was awarded the highest amount – $50,000 – for the “emotional, mental and physical” suffering she experienced.
The state found two other members of the group also suffered physical problems based on this incident.
Additionally, the bar was ordered to pay $5,000 in civil penalties.
The transgender women say it's not about the money. They hope the process is dragged out longer, even if that means they don't get paid. They say getting the word out to others is what's important.
"It was sending a word out to the business world, you do not discriminate, you have to follow the law, and if you don't follow the law, there is a penalty," said Cristine Burnett, who also won in the discrimination case.
They say they hope Penner appeals. To them it's not about a payout, it's about the precedent.
"Keep the $400,000 and give us the Supreme Court ruling," Cassandra said.
This incident marks the first time labor commissioner Brad Avakian has filed a complaint under the 2007 Oregon Equality Act.
Citizens have filed eleven total complaints under the law about discrimination in public places, a BOLI spokesman said.
KATU's Erica Nochlin contributed to this report.