An Oceanside bar owner who fired all of his black staff when he changed from a disco format to country-Western music has been ordered to pay more than $176,000 in damages to four ex-employees.
In a ruling made public Monday, the state Fair Employment and Housing Commission said unanimously that Treno Munoz had violated state job discrimination laws. The commission also told Munoz to offer to rehire the two bartenders, one waitress and one doorman.
Munoz could not be reached for comment on whether he will appeal the ruling.
The names of the plaintiffs were not immediately known.
The commission said Munoz, who had owned the Townhouse bar in downtown Oceanside since 1957, often used racial slurs and made derogatory remarks about blacks.
Format Change in 1985
In April, 1985, Munoz told his staff he was converting from disco to country-Western and firing all of his black employees "because they would bring in black customers, and he did not want blacks in the club," the commission said. The bar's name was changed to the Rusty Spur.
Besides the two bartenders, waitress and doorman, Munoz also fired his black disc jockey and a white bartender, who he "believed associated with blacks and would attract black customers," the commission said. It said he kept another white bartender and hired 27 people over the next 18 months, none of them black.
The commission said Munoz had had problems with military authorities, who had declared the bar off-limits for a short period, and with police, because of drug dealing and assaults by customers. He believed that getting rid of black customers would reduce those problems and improve profits, the commission said.
However, the evidence showed that the fired employees had not caused the problems and that the firings were not necessary for the business, the commission said. It said police had not ordered the club closed--as Munoz claimed--and that authorities had not suggested the club's change of format.
There was also no evidence to support Munoz's claim that blacks would not fit the new country-Western format, the commission said.
"This contradiction between (Munoz's) justification for his action and the truth indicates his discriminatory intent," the commission said.
The commission said one of the fired employees lost her house and two others were evicted from their apartments, one of them forcibly. The fourth got another job at higher pay.
The damages include $36,525 in lost income for three of the former employees, $115,000 for emotional distress for all four, and $25,000 in punitive damages, divided among the four, for "oppressive and malicious" conduct. Munoz also was ordered to notify his employees of their right to be protected against racial discrimination and harassment.
Oceanside officials said they were unaware of the violations by Munoz but applauded the state commission's decision to press forward with the fines.
Janita Moultrie, chairwoman of the city's Human Relations Commission, said the ruling will send a message to all bar owners in downtown Oceanside to more readily accept minorities, both as patrons and employees.
"It's been a long time coming in the city of Oceanside," Moultrie said. "Maybe this will be something that will spark people to say, 'Let's not accept these things that aren't right.' "