Mothers Men’s complaints prompt government investigations, lawsuit
Complaints about alleged race discrimination by a Chicago bar against six black Washington University students have prompted state and federal investigations and a likely lawsuit to be filed by the students against the bar.
The developments came in the week after the incident, which occurred during a senior class trip night out at the Original Mothers bar in a popular nightspot downtown. Senior Class Council had made prior arrangements with the bar for some 200 seniors to go there.
The investigations, which include an FBI inquiry, are a result of complaints filed by Regis Murayi, one of the students denied entry into the bar on Oct. 17. Murayi, treasurer of Senior Class Council, filed complaints with the Chicago Commission on Human Rights, the Illinois attorney general’s office and the U.S. Department of Justice.
In the complaints, Murayi alleged that the bar’s refusal to admit the students constituted discrimination under the Chicago Municipal Code, which prohibits places of public accommodations from discriminating against clientele based on race. Race discrimination is also a federal offense under Title II of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
Murayi said the manager of Mothers told him and the other students that they could not enter the bar because they were violating the bar’s ban on baggy jeans. But Murayi said the manager admitted white students wearing baggy jeans. To prove this, Murayi changed jeans with senior Jordan Roberts, a white student, and Roberts was then admitted into the bar wearing the jeans.
Murayi said he thinks the six were discriminated against not because of their jeans but because they were a large group of black men.
“The bar racially discriminated against us and automatically assumed that we were dangerous,” Murayi said.
Representatives from Mothers declined to be interviewed this weekend by Student Life but said in a news release that the bar “does not discriminate against guests or patrons on the basis of race, and would never tolerate discriminatory conduct.” Mothers said it is conducting an investigation into the case and will take disciplinary action if necessary.
Mothers representatives also told the Chicago Tribune Friday that the students were rejected because of security concerns, not racism. Mothers’ human resource manager, Dan Benson, said a security photograph showed that two of the students had been wearing backward baseball caps, which are associated with gangs. Benson said gang violence is common in the area near the bar.
Murayi disputed that his clothing suggested he was in a gang. Murayi said he was well dressed, wearing a peacoat, loafers and a button-down shirt. He offered to show his Washington University IDs as proof of enrollment.
Benson also noted in the Tribune that other black patrons had been admitted into the bar. Murayi said this does not change his opinion that the bar discriminated against the students on the basis of their race.
“In and of itself that’s racial in that they automatically assumed that we were a gang,” Murayi said.
Now, Murayi and the other five black students are preparing to take legal action against the bar. Murayi said a number of lawyers have offered to take up their case for free, and the students are currently working to select a candidate.
Murayi and the others are seeking to be compensated for out-of-pocket, emotional distress and punitive damages, as well as the suspension of licensing to Mothers.
“We want to hurt them financially moving forward,” Murayi said.
University officials and students are also taking action against the bar.
Chancellor Mark Wrighton wrote a letter to Mayor Richard Daley on Thursday in which he expressed his “most intense disappointment” about the incident.
“I can only imagine the humiliation and discouragement these six young students felt last weekend when they were turned away from this establishment because of their race,” Wrighton wrote.
Wrighton called the incident a “setback for the City” of Chicago and requested that Daley respond.
Student Union also issued a resolution last Wednesday condemning Mother’s actions and urging further on-campus discussion. The Association of Black Students, Connect 4 and the Senior Class Council organized a town hall forum that will feature professors, students and others at 8 p.m. Monday in Lab Sciences 300.
With additional reporting by Michelle Stein and Johann Qua Hiansen