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Honolulu LGBTQ nightclub 'Scarlet' files federal discrimination suit against state, county

HONOLULU — The Honolulu Liquor Commission and the state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs are discriminating against a Honolulu LGBTQ nightclub and its community, according to a federal lawsuit.

The owners of nightclub Scarlet Honolulu said in the lawsuit filed Monday that investigators with the agencies have a history of harassment and discrimination against the business and employees.

The lawsuit named four specific investigators that have allegedly targeted the nightclub for unfounded inspections and violations.

“We believe that particular investigators within the Honolulu Liquor Commission and at least two investigators within RICO, which is an office within (the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs), have essentially created a target for the gay community,” said the nightclub's attorney James DiPasquale.

DiPasquale said his clients want the inspectors to be removed from their work with the businesses and LGBTQ community and that the agencies need better training.

“None of the inspectors referenced in the complaint should ever be allowed to work with anyone within the gay community again," he said. “We can’t have people and their personal ideologies, you know, ultimately determining whether or not these businesses should or shouldn’t be given the same benefits of any other establishment.”

In one instance, the lawsuit said, an investigator assaulted nightclub security staff and an owner.

The lawsuit was filed jointly by the nightclub and Gay Island Guide, an online magazine. The lawsuit said the magazine published a story about the assault naming the inspectors in the case. The lawsuit said the same investigators then shut down an event organized by the publication.

The club was inspected disproportionately more often than other clubs not associated with the LGBTQ community, the lawsuit said.

The Honolulu Liquor Commission did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Krishna Jayaram, Honolulu's first deputy corporation counsel, said in a statement that the city is reviewing the complaint carefully. He said the city would "engage with" the Honolulu Liquor Commission and take additional action internally as appropriate.

“Discrimination has no place in government and Mayor Blangiardi is committed to ensuring that everyone can fully exercise and enjoy their rights as members of our community. The Blangiardi administration has referred past concerns raised by Scarlet Honolulu to entities with the authority to investigate the allegations made," Jayaram said.

The state attorney general's office said they had not been served with the complaint and had not reviewed the lawsuit. The Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs also said it had not received the complaint and needs to review it with the attorney general's office.

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