For Immediate Release - August 15, 2011

Dorchester Bar Sued for Civil Rights Violations by AG Coakley's Office

Lawsuit Alleges Peggy O'Neil's Denied Access to Persons of Color

BOSTON - A Dorchester restaurant and bar and its owner have been accused of violating Massachusetts civil rights and public accommodations laws in a lawsuit filed by Attorney General Martha Coakley's Office. The complaint alleges that Peggy O'Neils engaged in a pattern of not allowing customers of color to enter and use the bar.

"We allege that Peggy O'Neil's engaged in discriminatory and unlawful conduct," Attorney General Coakley said. "No one who lives, works or visits Massachusetts should be subjected to discrimination. All businesses must ensure that appropriate anti-discrimination policies are posted and adhered to within their establishments."

The lawsuit claims that in December 2010, two men of Cape Verdean and African-American descent went to Peggy O'Neil's, located in Dorchester, and waited in line with other customers as staff allowed numerous Caucasian customers to enter the bar in front of them. The owner, Caron O'Neil, who was working alongside bar staff allegedly said to the group, "This is your first time here, huh?" and informed them that they could not get in because it was too late. She allegedly told the group she did not "want any trouble", that she didn't know them, and that they should find somewhere else to go. At the same time, several white customers were allowed to enter the bar.

Later that evening, a second group of friends of Cape Verdean, Spanish and African American descent went to the bar and were also allegedly denied entry by bar staff. Bar staff asked them for their identification cards which they provided. The bouncer allegedly asked them if they knew the owner of the bar and who they were there to see. At the same time, other Caucasian customers were allowed to enter the bar, many of whom appeared to be intoxicated. According to the lawsuit, Ms. O'Neil told the group that they could not come in the bar because they did not know the bar's owner. She allegedly stated to them, "You don't look like the type of people" the owner would know and "we don't like people of your kind here" among other statements. The lawsuit further states that a third group of persons of color were denied entry to Peggy O'Neil's in April 2011 and were treated in a similar manner.

The Attorney General's lawsuit is seeking monetary damages, civil penalties and permanent injunctive relief, in addition to a preliminary injunction requiring the defendants and Peggy O'Neil's staff to comply with state and federal anti-discrimination and consumer protection laws, undergo anti-discrimination training, and implement an approved anti-discrimination policy.

This civil rights action was brought under the Massachusetts Public Accommodation Law, which prohibits places of public accommodation from restricting entry or limiting use and enjoyment of such locations to persons on the basis of their race, and the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act, which outlaws unfair and deceptive practices in trade or commerce.

This matter is being handled by Assistant Attorney General Elisha Jackson of Attorney General Coakley's Civil Rights Division and Maura T. Healey, Chief of the Civil Rights Division, with the assistance of Monique Cascarano of the Attorney General's Investigations Division.