Steve Horner is not happy, and his unhappiness fills my voice mail, spilling over in message after message. The source of this bitter spew? A recent ruling from the Division of Civil Rights, an "amended determination" in response to charge No. P20090009X, a complaint that Horner had originally filed against Westword a year ago, charging that the newspaper had discriminated against him in the summer of 2008 by publishing an advertisement for a ladies' night at Bar Standard.
This was only the latest salvo in our long-running battle with Horner, which had already resulted in a decisive — or so we thought — victory for Westword in Denver County Court in August 2007, when Judge Brian Campbell ruled that a newspaper was not a place of "public accommodation" as defined by state statute, and so could not have discriminated against Horner when we published a ladies' night ad for La Bohème. The Division of Civil Rights even cited that Campbell decision six months later, when it determined that the Denver Newspaper Agency could not have discriminated against Horner when it published an ad for a ladies' night, because the Denver Post was not a public accommodation. A year later, though, in its initial response to Charge No. P20090009X, the division overlooked that precedent — and ignored our lawyer's citing of the Campbell decision — when it issued a determination of probable cause against Westword. Back in February, we pointed out this inconsistency — could it be that the division had a double standard for double standards? — and the result was the "amended determination" issued September 3.
In this ruling, Division of Civil Rights director Steve Chavez concluded, "There is insufficient evidence to support the Charging Party's claims of denial of full and equal employment of a place of public accommodation." For starters, he agreed with Judge Campbell's decision that a newspaper is not a place of public accommodation. While there's no question that a bar is a place of public accommodation, Chavez went on to address the actual nature of ladies' nights themselves. "During the investigation," the determination noted, "the Division contacted Ronnie Williams, manager of Bar Standard. Williams stated that the purpose of the 'Ladies Night' promotion was not to exclude men; rather, the purpose was to attract men by enticing additional women to frequent the business. Williams further indicated that the same services and privileges were provided to members of both genders. Thus, the evidence indicates that the purpose of the promotion was not only to encourage women to frequent the establishment, but by doing so, to attract more men. Thus the promotion was not discriminatory and did, in fact, result in many members of both genders soliciting the Respondent's establishment.... The 'Ladies Night' promotion did not deny men the 'full and equal enjoyment' of a place of public accommodation. Men and women were equally allowed to use the facilities, services and benefits of the place of public accommodation. Therefore, the Respondent did not publish an advertisement that was prohibited under 601(2) and is consequently not in violation of the relevant statute."
I am not a lawyer, despite my many unofficial bar associations. But ever since Horner first moved to our state in the summer of 2006 and promptly filed a complaint against the Proof, owners of saloons and taverns across town have asked for my opinion on the legality of ladies' nights. What if they offer deals to people in bras? In skirts?
Fashion trends aside, my definitely non-legal advice has been that a bar should adopt the same tactic that the Colorado Rockies did after Horner complained about a ladies' promotion at Coors Field: Just offer the same deal to anyone who asks for it. And now, with its discussion of the Bar Standard policy, the Division of Civil Rights has essentially outlined the same strategy.
And that has made Horner very, very unhappy.
"Here's a message for your audience," he offered over a series of voice mails. "Hello, everybody, this is Steve Horner. I speak and write books at Stevehornerbooks.com. A lot of great stuff there on parenting and child abuse, just kind of spotlighting the hypocrisy and double standards of today's government and social-service policy makers. I think that by reading some of that information — and if you read it with an objective, loving, open heart, you'll clearly be able to put two and two together and figure out how we have succumbed to maliciousness and ignorance in public policy-making that has so egregiously, negatively affected families, our businesses and our country. Here's an example. Look at this with impartial eyes. Figure you're maybe a black person or a member of a minority religion, a member of the Islam faith, something like this, and you're discriminated against at a place of public accommodation. They clearly, simply have screwed you over and given you unequal treatment and service at a place of public accommodation. And the courts and the Division of Civil Rights have ruled in your favor. They've said, 'Yes, this person has been discriminated against.' And you're saying, 'Wow, that's great — an impartial, judicious government, standing up for me impartially.' And then the civil rights department, your elected officials, or your officials appointed by your elected officials, they don't do anything about this. They think, 'This person's rights have been violated, but he's kind of a dick, so we're not going to support him.' So they drop the case. The plaintiff gets angry. We say, 'Wait a minute, where's our rights? This is clearly a violation of our rights.' The department ignores those pleas, and we have to bite the bullet and say, well, at least we've been vindicated by having a 'probable cause' ruling issued. However, a couple of weeks later, the division is getting heat because you sent a letter to the commissioner and the government and to the governor, and maybe there's some back-office dealings going on. Maybe someone's being paid out. I don't know, you don't know.
"But out of the blue, after the case is dropped, the lackey lawyer for the commission writes you an e-mail and says, 'Ah, we've changed our ruling. The original ruling is no longer valid. Your rights were not really violated. We're going to issue no probable cause,' and now you're screwed. Because you know, the governor isn't listening, the press isn't listening. So what do you do? Like me, I'm just sending a plea for justice to the governor, the attorney general's office, the director of the division, saying, 'Don't I count? Don't my rights count? You can't just come along and not give me an opportunity to fight for justice after the case has been closed.' You tell me how you'd feel. You feel good that the white guy finally got it? Is that revenge? Well, that's great, you live your life by revenge, and I hope your children are victims of the same friggin' vicious mentality.
"If you think that maybe we should all be impartial and allow the rule to stand for everybody — equal treatment under the law, under the sun, that's what's in the Constitution, that's what I believe in — if that's what you believe in, then I hope you'll help me make some noise about this. And say, 'Wait a minute, I may not like this Steve Horner guy, but the courts have ruled in his favor. The law is on his side. I'm not going to allow some lackey, angry, vengeful chick to just close the door on him because of her malicious gender bias or ignorance.' I don't know what it is. But I know it's unfair. That's what it is."
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It sounds like Horner's worked himself up to the point of popping — but I doubt that we've heard the last from him. He still has many complaints pending at the Division of Civil Rights, more than a dozen of them citing Westword for its ads, a few of them naming me personally because of my coverage of his case. "They cannot not look at those cases," says Chris Lines, spokesman for the Department of Regulatory Agencies, which includes the Division of Civil Rights. "They will be looking for no intent to exclude."
The fact that they'll actually looking beneath the label is good news for bars in Colorado, good news for small businesses that want to be able to market themselves, and good news for anyone, lady or not, who might want a good drink deal someday.
So drink up, Colorado. It's Steve Horner Night, and he's buying. One way or another.