COLUMBUS—A unanimous Ohio Civil Rights Commission found probable cause Thursday that a Mason tavern owner discriminated against customers by posting a sign saying: “For Service Speak English.”
After Pleasure Inn owner Tom Ullum, 63, refused to remove the sign, the commission referred the case to an administrative law judge.
Ullum told the five-member commission that he has posted other signs that might offend some people, including Michigan football fans, but that he has never discriminated against anyone.
For example, Ullum said, he has had Russian customers who didn’t speak English but knew how to say “Budweiser” or “vodka.” That sparked laughter in the audience of about 100.
The yellow sign that triggered a July complaint from Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME), a fair-housing agency in Mount Auburn, remained in the window of Ullum’s tavern Thursday.
Just when it looked as if commissioners might be willing to negotiate a settlement, the Rev. Aaron Wheeler Sr., commission chairman, asked Ullum and his representative, K.C. McAlpin, if they would remove the sign. They said no.
McAlpin, executive director of ProEnglish language advocates in Arlington, Va., said Ullum has served “people of virtually every national origin. . . Neither of Mr. Ullum’s two employees speak languages other than English. . . This is really pretty preposterous.”
McAlpin called an October finding of subtle but persistent discrimination by the commission’s Office of Special Investigations “a denial of his right to free expression.”
“It’s discrimination,” Wheeler replied. “It will not be tolerated in the state of Ohio.”
An administrative law judge will now recommend possible penalties, which could range from ordering the sign be removed to daily fines or court action. He can also recommend that the case be dismissed.
In recent weeks, a second sign reading, “Merry Christmas ACLU” has been displayed in a front window of the Pleasure Inn on U.S. 42, in response to Christian groups’ recent clamor over “Happy Holidays” greetings supplanting “Merry Christmas.”