Claim Targets Dress Code at Broad Ripple Nightclub

Indianapolis Star, October 30, 2009

A popular Broad Ripple [a section of Indianapolis –AR News ed.] nightclub says its dress code is intended to keep out guns. But the Indiana Civil Rights Commission thinks it’s intended to keep out certain minorities.

A commission official contends that the dress code, which bans loose-fitting pants, baseball caps and hair picks, is discriminatory and could serve as a test case for changing dress codes at other bars and nightclubs throughout the state.

“The public interest in this is to see that the policies are amended to be less discriminatory,” said Indiana Civil Rights Commission Deputy Director Joshua Brewster, who brought the claims against Landsharks, 810 Broad Ripple Ave.

Brewster is pushing for a settlement to change the dress code. The commission said in a statement Thursday that the dress code prohibits “gang attire, loose-fitting pants, single-color T-shirts, chains worn outside of one’s shirt and picks in one’s hair, attire arguably more prevalent among members of particular minority populations.”

A spokesman for the nightclub called the commission’s allegations “absurd.” According to the Landsharks Web site, the dress code is intended to “maintain the integrity of our private establishment and a peaceful, fun atmosphere.”

“Our basic philosophy is our dress code is done for safety. It’s not based on race,” said Russ Taylor, Landsharks’ VIP and events manager. {snip}

{snip}

The rules are designed to keep out weapons, Taylor said. Baggy clothes might be concealing a gun, he said, and a hair pick can be used as a stabbing weapon.

“We never wanted to be like the other clubs where they do patdowns or have metal detectors,” Taylor said. “We wanted to be higher end–a dressing-up-and-going-out kind of club.”

But an expert in discrimination law said the policy is discriminatory.

“Based on the racialized terms that were used for some of the items that they don’t want customers to wear, it’s clear that it does have a more disparate impact on blacks than it does on whites,” said D. Aaron Lacey, an associate professor at the Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law.

“The rule is designed purposely to exclude certain types of individuals.”

{snip}

Landsharks regular Jason Hagemier said he is glad the club is enforcing its dress code. Last winter, the club was not quite as strict, he said.

“It was very thuggish. There was a lot of crazy stuff going on in the club. It just didn’t promote a good scene,” said Hagemier, 31, who owns a hair salon in Carmel.

“Now they enforce their dress code a little bit,” said Hagemier, who is white. “Everyone’s in there having a good time. Everyone looks nice.”

{snip}

Brewster said that if Landsharks opts against a settlement, an administrative law judge or the seven-member commission could order a change in the dress code policy. The commission does not have the power to issue a fine, he said, but can enforce its rulings through the courts.

Brewster based his claim on employment law, but he said there are no clear legal guidelines on dress codes for bars. He recalled only one other case brought against a bar, in Indianapolis; he could not remember the name of the bar, which settled the case privately.

“We understand that this is a common dress code,” Brewster said, and one reason for targeting Landsharks is “to establish a precedent.”

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