The Utah attorney general's office filed suit Friday against a private club on behalf of a black man who contended he was not allowed to purchase a membership to drink there because of his race.
According to the lawsuit filed in 3rd District Court, Harold C. Miller Jr. was told by the manager of Bogart's last January that "he could not purchase a membership because there were not any memberships available for sale."After Miller took his complaint to the attorney general's office, a pair of state investigators went to the private club, located at 1225 E. Wilmington Ave. in Sugar House.
A black investigator was refused admittance and membership, according to the lawsuit, although a white investigator who visited the club the following day was allowed to purchase a membership.
The lawsuit seeks to stop discrimination against black customers under the state's civil rights statute. It does not affect the club's state liquor license.
Guy L. Thomas, the president of Bogart's, said between 20 and 30 percent of the private club's 4,000 members are black. "They're upset about this. They're scared we're going to start letting the bad guys in," Thomas said.
He said club employees try to size up potential members before allowing them to purchase a $35 annual membership, judging them by whether they "bother regular members," for example.
"You can really tell" who is likely to cause trouble, he said, but added that race is not considered. "Color means nothing. We've got too many people here to protect. We're very careful."
Thomas said the club, which has been in business for 20 years, attracts mostly singles from as far away as Ogden. He said two employees, a doorman and a male dancer known by the stage name, "Black Stallion," are black.
Attorney General Paul Van Dam said this is the first complaint of a civil rights violations received during his administration. He said he expects the lawsuit to result in more victims coming forward.
"I find it highly unusual in any town of this size, from my conversations with other attorneys general, that we have received so (few) complaints about civil rights violations," Van Dam said.
The attorney general also said some changes need to be made in the civil rights statute to make it stronger. Currently, the law requires an attempt to resolve the alleged act of discrimination before a suit can be filed.
According to the lawsuit, state attorneys met with the legal counsel for Bogart's but were unable to reach a resolution. Van Dam declined to comment on the meeting.
Bogart's legal counsel, Ed Guyon, said he expects another settlement proposal from the attorney general's office Monday. It is not clear whether the lawsuit will go forward on behalf of other potential black members if Miller is admitted.