A year later, Peggy O’Neil’s case still in court

Nearly a year after Attorney General Martha Coakley accused Peggy O’Neil’s Pub & Grille of discrimination, her office and the co-owner of the Dorchester Avenue bar are still slugging it out in Suffolk Superior Court.

Coakley filed a discrimination lawsuit last August, claiming that there were several incidents in 2010 in which Peggy O’Neil’s turned away people of color while letting Caucasians into the establishment.

The co-owner of Peggy O’Neil’s, Caron O’Neil, and her attorney have filed affidavits from 20 customers defending the bar and saying it doesn’t discriminate. But a Boston cop who was on paid detail on one occasion submitted his own testimony, saying Caron O’Neil was attempting to block people from entering because she didn’t know them.

O’Neil, president of Limerick Co. Inc., said in her own affidavit filed last year that the pub is “always full of diverse people from all walks of life.” The pub door sometimes gets shut down as early as midnight, she added, in an effort to control the crowds.

“As a homosexual woman, who knows and has experienced the perils of discrimination, I find the allegations deplorable and solely retaliatory based on intoxicated and unruly individuals being denied access to a drinking establishment,” she said.

One of the people who complained to the attorney general’s office falsely claimed to know Caron O’Neil’s late mother, she added.

The civil lawsuit is currently in the “discovery” phase, with both sides gathering evidence to bolster their cases. Caron O’Neil, who has tapped Milton lawyer Nancy Hurley to handle the defense of the bar, did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.

A range of affidavits was found in court documents. Robert White, a 27-year-old union laborer from Dorchester, said he has been coming to the bar for years with white, black, and Asian friends.

“We have been turned away at the door a few times but only because we were too intoxicated to enter,” he wrote.

Formerly known as the “Glass Top Lounge,” the bar has a 2 a.m. closing time and capacity for 221 people.

Robert Kenney, a 59-year-old African-American from Rockland, wrote that he had been coming to the bar for 15 years. “I have always been treated with respect, and at times better than most, at the pub, no matter what color skin I have,” he wrote.

William Johnson, a 74-year-old African-American from Roxbury, said he had been “treated extremely well” at the bar. The retired painter claimed that in an incident 13 years ago, three white men approached him and “acted as if [they] were going to assault me.” Bar staff and fellow patrons came to his aid and escorted the group out, he said.

John MacDougall, a 61-year-old resident of Norwood, has known the bar for 25 years and frequently brings in co-workers who are from Guatemala or are African-American.

“My friends, coworkers, and I have never experienced any discrimination or any type of that conduct,” he wrote.

But in a letter to District C-11 Captain Richard Sexton, Officer Gerrard Lett recounted an incident where the owner of the bar did not let three female African-Americans into the bar because she didn’t know them.

Lett, who was on paid detail on the night of April 23, 2011, said he walked away at one point to someone he knew at a corner. He then overheard someone yelling at the owner of the bar – who he repeatedly referred to in the letter as “Karen.” The person yelled an expletive and used the words “fat racist bitch.”

Lett wrote that O’Neil asked him to intervene between her and a female African-American. After he threatened to arrest the female African-American, a man removed her from the area. Lett then asked O’Neil about what happened and “she stated that she didn’t let the women in the bar because she didn’t know them.”

Lett said he didn’t think she could do that because of state law. “She stated that her bar was a private bar and she could let in whoever she wanted,” Lett wrote. “She then stated that if the woman went in and her boyfriend was in there with another woman there would be a fight. I told her I didn’t think she could assume that.”

Lett later came back to the bar with a copy of the state law, he wrote. Public accommodation laws prohibit discrimination and restrictions based on religion, class, race, color, denomination, sexual orientation, or disabilities.

The attorney general’s office, which had submitted affidavits alleging discrimination against people of color in several incidents in 2010, made additional submissions from incidents in February 2011.

In one affidavit, a man who is black and Portuguese wrote that he and four friends attempted to enter the bar, but an unnamed woman told them, “We really don’t know your type” and refused to let them in.
As part of the lawsuit, Coakley’s office is seeking monetary damages and civil penalties.