July 1, 2014 at 1:13 pm EST | by guest columnist
Standing by our client in D.C. restaurant bias case
gay news, Washington Blade

(Photo courtesy of Lambda Legal)


When a B&B in Hawaii refused to rent a room to a lesbian couple, when a restaurant in New York harassed a woman and her friends because they thought she was a lesbian, and when a housing complex in Florida turned away a gay man and his partner—Lambda Legal investigated, filed suit and righted those wrongs.

Just recently, Lambda Legal took on representation of two gay men in Iowa after a small business refused to rent them space for their wedding.

Whether a business is large or small, homophobic by reputation or self-proclaimed “LGBT friendly,” where there is strong evidence of discrimination, Lambda Legal is committed to fighting unequal treatment of LGBT people and people living with HIV in public accommodations at all levels.

The discrimination detailed in our complaint to the D.C. Office of Human Rights is yet another case in which LGBT people have suffered mistreatment in their everyday lives. Our client’s claims are supported by multiple witnesses and by the receipt containing an anti-LGBT slur.

Our client and companions with her that night are hurt and bewildered by claims that they were somehow to blame for what happened and that the bar manager apologized to them and publicly fired the waitress, when that is simply not at all what our client and others at her table saw or heard.

Whether it’s representing a transgender woman who was entitled to equal treatment at a bar or gay men seeking to rent an apartment, Lambda Legal is committed to being there to see that acts of bias are investigated and non-discrimination laws are enforced.

Jon Davidson is legal director and Eden/ Rushing chair at Lambda Legal. 

  • So rather than say “ooops, we made a big mistake” Lambda Legal doubles down on attacking a gay friendly local business when one person had a bad experience. And to add insult to injury, Lambda Legal compares this business to firms that have engaged in gross discrimination.

    I wish they’d spend their resources more constructively. I’ll remember that next time they ask me for a donation.

    • Being gay friendly does not equal being trans* friendly. Trans* people have as much right to eat in a restaurant as gay people do. So I too will remember this when asked for a donation.

  • Lambda refutes a claim that was not made–that the manager had “publicly fired the waitress” (“publicly” appears to be a bald fabrication designed to make the actual story easier to dismiss). More rich is Lambda’s continued ploy of treating the incident in question as a generic case rather than a specific one. Completely unrelated cases are cited, as if any defense or explanation of the particular circumstances and appropriate response by management were preposterous and galling on its face. This is like a political demagogue who is caught being unscrupulous and cries, “If you accuse me of standing up for the downtrodden, I proudly plead guilty!” But the criticism is not that Lambda stands up for the downtrodden it is that they have calumniated and harmed an LGBT-friendly business based on a single incident where the management took remedial action and tried to make amends. Lambda’s handling of this case adds disgrace upon disgrace.

  • Lambda Legal is committed to fighting unequal treatment of LGBT people and people living with HIV in public accommodations at all levels. – Jon
    Rick, are you kidding? Aren’t you blaming the victims?
    A mere ‘single incident’? A ‘we’re so sorry’ and comping the bill? You call that an “appropriate response” — a fair trade-off for the LGBT victims’ injury? That’s laughable.
    Just exactly how many publicly humiliating attacks like that should any business be given a pass on? Those customers came in to have a good time; not to be repeatedly victimized by a business that is clearly *not* LGBT-friendly.
    What’s ‘rich’ and a ‘disgrace’ is all the excuse-making for an outrageous case of anti-LGBT discrimination, and for which this establishment is fully responsible.
    Lambda Legal is still fighting nobly for all of us– with no excuses needed.

  • Mark Lee (Washington Blade Contributing Columnist)

    For Blade readers wondering what this Lambda Legal letter is in response to (no link is provided above), here is my June 19th Washington Blade Viewpoint column “Can a Business Undo Damage Done by Gay Zealots? Lambda Legal Unfairly Tarnished a D.C. Restaurant – and They Don’t Care” – https://www.washingtonblade.com/2014/06/19/can-business-undo-damage-done-gay-zealots/

  • When I read the comments trashing Lambda Legal and all I see is a video…..


    So if the establishment is “gay” friendly, no one is allowed to file a claim against them?

    They must serve the best Appletinis….

  • I think we need to be very carfeul not to Generalize. If one waitress did a horrible stunt that got her fired. How is it that the owner and the entire staff is Anti Gay? Would it be safe to say when one Caucasian makes a racist statement, then ALL CAUCASIANS ARE CONSIDERED RACISTS? Of course not!

    Just because equality is coming to this community we need to be careful with the power we have. Trying to RUIN someone’s business over ONE employees horrific actions is assinine at best!

    This community has many issues within the community that needs to be discussed. This will only embolden the owner to scream they’re being persecuted by the Gay Mafia and watch heterosexuals come out in droves to support him. Just remember what happened when Chik Full of Hate did the same thing and it was a BIG WIN for them!

  • As someone who has helped file several complaints with the Office of Human Rights, this one confuses the heck out of me. There just doesn’t seem any justification for going public and going after this business before all the facts are in …. What reason could a national organization have for arbitrarily picking THIS case to get involved in – and going publicly (which frankly, was probably not in the best interest of the client) ??

    In my experience in many of these complaints filed with OHR, the outcomes are decided by arbitration, and there are often non-disclosure policies involved. Such an outcome may be in the best interest of the client, but Lambda Legal has all but closed that door by going so public so early. It confuses me quite frankly. Can someone explain to me how the publicity is in the best interest of their client? This is not a lawsuit. This is an OHR complaint. They are two very different things.

    There is SO much that Lambda Legal could have done for our local trans community over the years. For example, we’ve filed more than 100 OHR complaints on bathrooms that violated our gender-neutral single stall law. And after a lot of work, local DC folks have made progress on this issue, but again, how does Lambda Legal make the decision NOT to help on this issue and instead take the case they selected?

    By all means, file a complaint, but the way they went about this does not make sense to me.

    And frankly, what about the guy who was fired from his job when his boss saw him take his HIV Medications at work? What about the woman who passed the initial job interview but lost the job when one of her job references revealed she was transgender? What about the older lesbian couple who were told they couldn’t share a room at the nursing home?

    Speaking as someone who does work at the local level, I can assure you that Lambda Rising hasn’t demonstrated regard for my opinion with regards to what OHR cases they pick and choose from here in the District. However, I can assure you their are much more significant cases they could have chosen from over the years. This isolated incident of an unruly employee can be resolved quickly due to the fact that it is a very LGBT affirming business ready to make amends. Other cases are not so quickly resolved.

    It would be great to have Lambda’s help on some of the tougher cases, What about discrimination against trans folks in DC. Or what about the OHR cases that document discrimination against people living with HIV. Anyone?

    • Lambda is about impact litigation. They want the case that is clear cut and obvious that can be used to send a broader message to the broader community, and can be used to make change beyond a single instance. Just about every case they take on is going to be publicized because that is the nature of what they do.

      I agree that publicity like this is not always the best way. But that is what Lambda does. It’s the nature of the beast.

      • Hey Angela,

        This is NOT impact litigation. First and foremost, for the obvious reason that it is not litigation. Filing a complaint with the Office of Human Rights is not litigation. Also, it’s not impact legislation because there is no “impact”. What larger message do you think this is going to send to anyone? That if LGBT friendly businesses accidentally hire one bad apple, that our community will dedicate our time and resources to shutting them down?

        IMPACT LEGISLATION would be taking on the case of any transgender person in DC who is having trouble getting their insurance company to abide by the new District guidances on appropriate health care (including gender confirming surgeries) for transgender folks. This IS litigation because 1. they would be suing somebody so it actually is litigation 2. It would have impact because it would send a powerful message to other insurance companies who are presently deciding how to respond to the new guidances on trans-inclusive health care in the District.

        Again, I’ve filed hundreds of complaints with OHR over the years. Lambda Legal, to my knowledge, has filed one. And I think if you ask any local LGBT activist in DC they would agree that Lambda Legal did not pick a particularly useful one.

        • I am so not a lawyer, David. But let me take issue with, and question a few of your points anyway.

          My reading of a variety of definitions is that Angela is correct, as I assume she intended a more generic definition of the term, *impact LITIGATION *. Besides, isn’t it true complainants would still likely have a cause(s) of action for civil remedies if OHR’s required mediation doesn’t work out?
          Even if statutory limits for complaints are not tolled, isn’t OHR’s process timeline less than a year?
          Why shouldn’t we view OHR as a first, good-faith step to litigation avoidance by Lambda Legal’s clients? Which brings me to another mistaken reference you made…
          What larger message do you think this is going to send to anyone? That if LGBT friendly businesses accidentally hire one bad apple, that our community will dedicate our time and resources to shutting them down?
          Be reminded, Lamda Legal’s sole professional responsibility is to their clients, not “our community.”
          Also be reminded, any business is responsible for even the mere “bad apples” it vets and hires. Any such establishment also has a constant management duty *to take reasonable care* that the public it is licensed (by ‘we the people’) to serve, are not harassed, humiliated and discriminated against. To my understanding, there is even business insurance to help small businesses with such claims.
          It appears wildly mistaken on its face, as well, to imply the innocent victims are ‘dedicating time and resources’ to ‘shutting down’ the offending establishment. Compensation for such outrageous conduct should be substantial, but it need not break the establishment’s business.
          Moreover, I believe it is a serious mistake for LGBT activists who represent organizations in competition with Lambda Legal for LGBT donor dollars to be publicly bashing, or even publicly diminishing, Lambda’s clients’ fundamental rights under law.
          It is unseemly at best. And it does no service to people in our wider LGBT communities– most of whom can see a clear, less than ethical, even hypocritical, conflict of interest in such activists voicing such opinions.

  • Brian, you are demagoguing and disregarding the facts of the case.

    • I don’t think there’s a big dispute about the facts of this case. But demagoguing? To what end? You give me too much credit. I aint running’ for nuthin. And I don’t really know Lamda Legal from Adam and Steve.
      Rick, you will always be one of my LGBT heroes. We just have a difference of opinion again. Nothing personal.
      It’s early, but join me in a digital 4th of July toast to equality’s earliest patriots 238 years ago…
      Jefferson, Adams– and to their latter day successors, like Frederick Douglass, Harvey Milk and Edie Windsor. It is a good country still and its moral arc is still bending.

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