Six Say Red Onion Disco Kept Them Out Because of Bias

Times Staff Writer

The state Department of Fair Employment and Housing is investigating complaints of racial discrimination by six men who claim they were refused entrance to the Red Onion, a popular Santa Ana disco.

On separate occasions over the last three months, the men--two blacks, two Latinos and two Middle Easterners--told the department’s regional office in Santa Ana that they were stopped at the disco’s front door because their driver’s licenses were questionable or they failed to meet the Red Onion’s dress code.

“They looked at my ID and said it didn’t have a California seal on it,” said Tauquir Rathor, 25, a native Pakistani and office supply salesman .

“I could see the seal with my eyes, but they said they couldn’t see it with their flashlight. It seems like they were doing this to everybody who was colored or not white.”


Proof of Age

Customers usually line up outside the disco on weekend nights, waiting their turn to pay and show proof of age before they are allowed inside.

Red Onion officials say that they do not discriminate and that because they serve alcoholic beverages, they must watch for anyone under 21.

“The door hosts are trained very carefully to look at the identification of all customers, regardless of race or sex,” Red Onion attorney Ralph Saltsman said. “If someone under age is allowed into the restaurant during the period when 21 and over are only allowed in, criminal and administrative sanctions can arise which can result in closure of the restaurant.”


Ron Newman, president of the 14 Red Onion restaurants in Southern California, added: “It doesn’t matter if you’re white, black, yellow or whatever. We’re tough on anybody.” Dorothy Davis, the district administrator for the Department of Fair Employment and Housing in Santa Ana, said her agency will notify the Red Onion in writing about the investigation, which, she said, should take about six months to complete.

“Our first effort is to achieve a voluntary settlement between the parties,” Davis said. “If that does not happen and we find in favor of the complainant, the case would ultimately go to a public hearing in front of an administrative law judge.”

Relatively Few Complaints

The Department of Fair Employment and Housing is in charge of enforcing California’s civil rights laws. Davis said her office receives relatively few complaints that involve violations of public accommodation laws.


“This is really one of the more difficult areas of discrimination,” said Davis. “An individual who experiences discrimination usually has no idea they have been discriminated against. Unless someone is very astute, quite often it’s just overlooked.”

In addition to the six who filed with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing, three others have complained to the Orange County Human Relations Commission, which was established in 1971 to solve community disputes amicably.

Michael Fitzpatrick of Santa Ana, who is 23 and black, filed a complaint with the commission after he was turned away from the disco in January.

“Everyone ahead of me was breezing right through the door,” Fitzpatrick said. “When I handed the guy my driver’s license, he looked at it and said, ‘No, this isn’t you.’


“I have a distinct nose and eyebrows. You could see it was me. I’m upset. I’m not used to being treated that way.”

Because of the complaints, Benedict Boyd, a staff member at the Orange County Human Relations Commission, set up a conciliation meeting last month for some of the complainants and Red Onion attorney Saltsman.

According to Boyd, the group waited at his office for more than an hour, but Saltsman never showed. When asked last week about the March 12 meeting, Saltsman said: “I have it listed here (on a calendar) but not at a time or with a name. Then I have it crossed off which means that it was tentative and wasn’t confirmed. I’d be happy to meet with them if they’d like to set up a time.”

While the crowd that comes to the Santa Ana Red Onion on Main Street and MacArthur Boulevard is overwhelmingly white, a Times reporter who visited the jammed disco on a recent Friday night found a handful of minorities inside. During the same evening, two black Times reporters and the black spouse of one of them were allowed into the disco with no problem.


Not Convinced

Boyd, however, said he was not convinced of the restaurant’s good intentions. “There are just too many people who have complained (for them) not to have appropriate ID,” he said. “It is just ludicrous to believe that this isn’t anything but racial prejudice. There seems to be no limit to the number of witnesses who come forward.”

Sam Crawford, a 25-year-old black, claims he was “humiliated and disgusted” because he was turned away from the Red Onion several times in the last few months. Crawford said he plans to call the American Civil Liberties Union for help.

“One time the guy (at the door) let me in because I gave him such a hard time,” said Crawford, who is a car salesman in Irvine. “This was on a night it was real slow. Another time they said my ID didn’t look like me. I didn’t argue the point too much and told my (white) co-workers to go in without me. And then last month, they hit me for a mutilated ID.” When he was refused entry because of the tattered condition of his driver’s license, Crawford and his office manager, Danny Hisamoto, went to a nearby gas station to call Santa Ana police.


“At the citizen’s request,” said Lt. Robert Helton of the Santa Ana Police Department, “Officer (David) Bartholome ran a DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) check and when it came back it was his name, his picture, it was him.”

“The guy (Crawford) asked him to mention that to the Red Onion (door host) which the officer did. After that, the officer drove away.” Said Crawford: “He (the officer) couldn’t make them let me in. I tried to go in again and they said, ‘No it’s mutilated.’ ”

Asked about Crawford’s allegations, Saltsman said: “If the driver’s license was mutilated, I can see the host being very wary and not being comforted by the police officer. What we want is customers who are prepared to be responsible and have a good time. We certainly welcome everybody’s patronage, assuming they are the right age.”