A federal jury has found that the owner of a Penn Quarter sports bar illegally discriminated against a former employee because of her race and awarded her $687,000 in damages under federal and District anti-discrimination laws.
Jurors found that Redline owner Mick Dadlani and his company, Red Line DC LLC, violated the civil rights of newly hired bartender Briggitta Hardin around the time of the bar’s Dec. 2, 2010, grand opening.
Hardin, who is African American, said that when Dadlani met her, he refused to shake her hand or speak with her and that she was fired within an hour.
According to court records from a seven-day trial this month before U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton of the District, eight current or former employees, including four managers at the time of the bar’s launch, were called by both sides to testify about their experiences working at the bar and with Dadlani.
Testimony by several white ex-employees noted the absence at the time of black bartenders and Dadlani’s racially charged hiring preferences, according to Hardin’s lead attorney, Megan Cacace, of the Relman, Dane & Colfax law firm in Washington.
“Witnesses testified at trial that he wanted to hire white blonde chicks or girls” as bartenders, Cacace said.
Hardin, now in her mid-20s and a Howard University graduate working in the communications and events-planning industry, declined to comment about the case, Cacace said.
Red Line DC and Dadlani’s lead attorney, Sundeep Hora, of the Alderman, Devorsetz & Hora law firm in Washington, said: “From our perspective, Redline has always been a diverse place. Anyone who walks in there can see that immediately. We are very disappointed in the verdict, and at this point, we are considering all options available to us.”
In court papers, Dadlani and Red Line DC said that any actions against Hardin’s employment were taken for legitimate reasons, that Hardin never complained of discrimination to any manager and that Dadlani specifically “did not aid, abet, ratify, condone, encourage or acquiesce in any alleged discriminatory conduct.”
At trial, the defendants called two African American patrons and friends to testify about the demographics of Redline’s patrons and employees and Dadlani’s treatment of black and other minority customers.
On Jan. 21, after two days of deliberations, an eight-member jury awarded Hardin $175,000 in compensatory damages and $510,000 in punitive damages under federal civil rights law, plus $2,000 in punitive damages under the District’s Human Rights Act.
Cacace said that African Americans have been hired as bartenders at the bar since the lawsuit was filed in November 2011.
The website for Redline describes the venue as a luxury or upscale “gastrolounge and bar” featuring at-table beer taps in an 86-seat restaurant and a 130-seat sports pub next to Verizon Center.
The case grew out of a separate complaint to the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, which was a co-counsel for Hardin.
The person who filed that complaint testified at Hardin’s trial about a May 2011 incident in which Dadlani allegedly closed Redline earlier than normal because of the presence of a group of customers dressed in baggy clothing or who had a “ganglike” appearance, Cacace said. That witness testified that the next day, Redline racially profiled patrons at the door, turning away unwanted customers using a fake list of guest names for a nonexistent private party, Cacace said.