ACLU Files Racial Discrimination Lawsuit Against Virginia Beach Nightspot Over Hair Policy

Affiliate: ACLU of Virginia
January 18, 2007 12:00 am


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Policy Targets African Americans By Prohibiting Braids, Twists, Cornrows and Dreadlocks

VIRGINIA BEACH, VA – The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia filed a lawsuit today against Barry Davis, owner of the Kokoamos Island Bar, Grill and Yacht Club, challenging a policy that prohibits persons wearing braids, twists, cornrows or dreadlocks from entering the Virginia Beach nightspot. According to papers filed in federal court, the policy discriminates on the basis of race because it targets hairstyles predominately worn by African Americans.

The ACLU represents two African Americans, Myron Evans and Kimberley Hines, both of whom were barred from entering Kokoamos because they wore dreadlocks. In June of last year,Evans was with a group of about ten friends — one of whom was a Caucasian woman with spiked hair dyed black and platinum — who sought entry to Kokoamos. The woman with spiked hair was allowed to enter but not Evans. Evans then asked to speak to the owner, and was told by Davis, “There are other places that cater to your kind of crowd.”

In August of last year, Hines was with three Caucasian friends when she was also denied entry to Kokoamos because of her dreadlocks.

The Kokoamos policy also bans excessively baggy pants and Timberland boots. In November, WAVY TV, Channel 10 aired a news report in which two persons wearing the prohibited boots and loose-fitting pants tried to enter the club. One was African American and the other Caucasian. The Caucasian was allowed in, but not the African American.

“It is both shameful and disturbing that decades after the civil rights movement we are still fighting such blatant acts of discrimination,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis.

“Owners of businesses are given a wide berth in our society to establish policies that allow them to create the ambience they desire within their establishments,” said Willis. “But they cannot set standards that discriminate against patrons on the basis of race or ethnicity.”

The ACLU sent a letter to Davis on October 5, 2006 urging him to rescind his policy of barring individuals from entering his clubs on the basis of a hairstyle associated with a particular race, religion or ethnicity. The letter also threatened legal action if no changes were forthcoming. Davis declined to take action.

A copy of the ACLU of Virginia’s brief can be found at: www.acluva.org/docket/pleadings/kokoamos_complaint.pdf

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