The owners of the Appletree restaurant, a former downtown nightclub once popular among young Washington professionals, agreed yesterday to pay $125,000 in an out-of-court settlement to two black men who had accused the club of race discrimination.
The two men contended in a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court that black patrons at the Appletree, which closed in January, were required at times to pay an admission charge not required of whites, were given slower service than white patrons, were treated rudely and were required to present a credit card if they intended to order more than one round of drinks.
In court papers, Stephen A. Martin and Elmer D. Johnson alleged that blacks who refused to order drinks were ejected from the Appletree and that a chart was kept in the club's front office recording the number of nonwhites asked to leave the establishment.
Donald L. Parker, the chief officer of the management company that operated the Appletree, has denied under oath that he ever instructed employes to give different service to blacks and whites and said he has no knowledge of employes treating black and white customers differently.
In a sworn statement taken in preparation for trial, Parker, 54, said that he never saw any chart in the front office recording the number of blacks ejected. Parker could not be reached for comment yesterday.
In separate sworn depositions, two former club employes said a club manager kept an orange poster board chart up for about a month that recorded the numbers by using silhouettes of camels and spears. One employe said the board was regarded as a joke.
Martin, a Pepco community relations representative, and Johnson, a D.C. police officer, friends since their childhood in Alexandria, alleged in the lawsuit that the Appletree's policies violated local and federal civil rights laws and were intended to discourage blacks from patronizing the club, which was located at 1220 19th St.
In addition to Parker and the management company that operated the Appletree, Martin and Johnson sued Ronald W. DuPriest, who was a general manager at the club. DuPriest, who now lives in Florida, did not give a sworn deposition in the case.
Judge Charles R. Richey, who had been expected to preside at a trial of the case next week, accepted the settlement agreement and dismissed the case yesterday.
"I feel very good about it . . . I think it's high time things around here started to change. That's not the only place that does it," Martin said yesterday. Attorney David H. Shapiro, who with attorney John R. Dugan represented the two men, said the case "should stand as a lesson to establishments in this city that racial bias is not tolerated."
Shapiro and Dugan said the settlement will be paid by the club's insurance company. Leo A. Roth, an attorney representing the Appletree's insuror, said he had no comment on the case yesterday.
Martin and Johnson, both 35, said they were thrown out of the Appletree in November 1981 after they complained that the management was making blacks pay a $5 cover charge while whites were admitted free. They brought the lawsuit against the club after that incident.
"The blacks were going in their pocket and the whites were giving them nothing but a smile," said Johnson, who paid the $10 cover charge for himself and Martin that evening but then monitored the club door to see who else was made to pay.
In papers filed in federal court, attorneys for the Appletree denied that Martin and Johnson were discriminated against at the club. The attorneys contended that during the November incident, the two were given back their $10 cover charge and asked to leave the premises because of their behavior.
Parker said that he was watching the door at the club on the night Martin and Johnson complained about the admission policy, but, he said, no one was given a "freebee" that night.
In a statement given as the case was being prepared for trial, a former Appletree disc jockey said under oath that managers at the club told him not to play "black music" because they wanted to reduce their black clientele.
"Black crowds scare away white people. Black crowds do not drink. And black crowds do not tip. That was their reason; not mine," the disc jockey, Jay Applestein Neil, said in the statement.
Parker said in his statement that the percentage of black and white clients in his club, which he estimated at 50-50, was not a business concern of his. He denied that he was afraid a high number of blacks would discourage white patrons.
Parker said in the statement that he was interested in patrons 25 to 45 years old and in "quality" people, whom he described as "people that spend money."
Parker said he never knew of an allegation that one of his general managers had told Neil there were too many blacks on the dance floor and that the style of music -- which the general manager allegedly described with a racially pejorative term -- should be changed.
"It was not company policy and had I heard those expressions, whoever made them, I would have fired them right on the spot," Parker said.
In 1980, the Appletree signed a "conciliation agreement" with the D.C. Office of Human Rights agreeing to a nondiscriminatory admissions policy and affirmative action in hiring. Martin and Johnson initially brought their complaint to that office but then withdrew it before any findings were made in order to pursue the case in court.
In his statement, Parker said he knew of no discrimination complaints against his club except for a half dozen or less that were filed by blacks and homosexuals with the Human Rights Commission but were either dismissed or withdrawn. CAPTION: Picture, Stephen Martin, and Elmer Johnson, who will get $125,000 in an out-of-court settlement with the now-closed Appletree nightclub. By Gary A. Cameron -- The Washington Post