Eagle discrimination suit heads to trial | VailDaily.com

Eagle discrimination suit heads to trial

EAGLE ” A long-delayed racial discrimination against the town of Eagle is finally getting its day in court.

The case of Steve and Mary Rodriguez versus the town of Eagle will be heard in U.S. District Court in Denver beginning Monday. The lawsuit relates to the town’s 2002 revocation of the liquor license for the now-defunct El Tejano nightclub.

The civil rights action was filed in November 2006 by El Tejano owners, brother and sister Mary and Steve Rodriguez. Because of the allegation of racial discrimination, the case was filed in Denver as a federal civil rights lawsuit.

The Rodriguezes are seeking unspecified damages against the town, claiming their license revocation was racially motivated because of their Hispanic background and the predominately Hispanic clientele at the bar.

The brother and sister originally obtained a liquor license for the establishment in August 2001. When the license was up for renewal in August 2002, members of the Eagle Police Department testified about incidents of over-serving alcohol and of alcohol being served to minors at the bar. Additonally, a female patron testified that she was over-served and subsequently she performed a striptease for tips at the bar.

The judge who conducted a 2002 hearing about the bar’s liquor license violations recommended El Tejano’s license be revoked or that it be suspended and a probation period imposed. The Eagle Town Board voted to deny the establishment’s license renewal.

The Rodriguez lawsuit claims the town’s action was unduly harsh and different from the disciplinary action imposed on what the plaintiffs characterize as an “Anglo bar” in town. The complaint notes that when the Brush Creek Saloon’s license was brought up for renewal and liquor law violations were noted, the board suspended the license rather than revoking it.

In addition to the complaints related to alleged differences in treatment of license renewals, the Rodriguezes claim their establishment was the victim of a harassment campaign by local police officers. In particular, they cited officers parked in the parking lot to observe El Tejano’s patrons and frequent arrived unannounced to take walk-throughs of the tavern.

Nora Kelly, attorney for the Rodriguezes, says her clients strongly believe they were victims of racial discrimination. She says her clients spent a great deal of money to launch their business; and the revocation resulted in a large loss of income.

The town has maintained its decision not to renew El Tejano’s license was based on the bar’s disregard of state and local liquor laws. The town refutes the discrimination claim, noting that there were no objections when the license was originally granted. The town also notes that another Hispanic operator took over the space previously occupied by El Tejano and has successfully conducted business at the site since 2003 without any liquor license violations.

Eagle Mayor Ed Woodland noted that the case precedes his time on the Eagle Town Board, but he supported the town’s 200 decision. “From the facts that have been presented to the town board for the purpose of settlement discussions, this case has precious little merit,” Woodland said. “If stripping on the bar doesn’t cause you to lose your liquor license, I would like to see what would.”

The case was originally slated to go to trial in 2007, but it was bumped when the federal court opted to hear a murder case instead. At the time of the second scheduled trail, the Rodriguezes requested a continuance. It was then rescheduled to begin last spring, but was again delayed by a court docket conflict. The federal court was short several judges pending confirmation by the U.S. Senate.

In April 2006, several claims contained within the original lawsuit were dismissed by U.S. District Court Judge Walker D. Miller. The judge dismissed individual claims against former Eagle Police Chief Phil Biersdorfer as well as charges alleging abuse of the process by the town. The judge also dismissed charges levied against the Eagle Police Department as a separate entity, noting the department is not separate from the town.

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