Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 7 / 15 February 2018

City moves to dismiss Natali suit


Bar owner Les Natali. Photo: Rick Gerharter
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City officials last week moved to dismiss a lawsuit filed by a Castro bar owner who is seeking to overturn findings that he discriminated against African Americans and women. In response to the lawsuit, the city is arguing because the Human Rights Commission never formally adopted the findings there is no need to litigate the suit.

In a letter sent July 21 to attorneys representing Les Natali, the owner of SF Badlands on 18th Street who has repeatedly denied the claims and mediated a confidential settlement in January with eight complainants who accused him of discriminatory business practices, HRC Director Virginia Harmon said because she never officially approved the initial staff findings against Natali there is nothing in fact to overturn.

Harmon states in her letter that since the complainants withdrew their complaints as part of the mediated settlement before she issued a "final determination after reconsideration," the initial finding is "no longer operative and does not represent a final legal determination of the HRC director or the commission."

Natali filed suit in June with San Francisco Superior Court seeking to have the HRC staff report released on April 26, 2005 overturned because it "wrongly concludes that [he] and his business have violated San Francisco civil rights laws, harming [his] reputation and the goodwill of his business." The results have been "lasting and damaging," Natali claimed in the lawsuit.

But City Attorney spokesman Matt Dorsey said that in the city's view, there is nothing to litigate.

"We think the letter clarifies the issues and really obviates the lawsuit. There is nothing to litigate because the finding isn't operative," said Dorsey. "From what I understand of the lawsuit, it is moot."

Julius Turman, the attorney for the complainants, agreed.

"I think that technically, Ms. Harmon is correct," Turman said Tuesday. "Because we decided to settle with our clients through mediation, the final determination is really moot. The finding is not operative. However, if Mr. Natali wishes to pursue this matter I think we're entitled to a final determination and we will probably seek to intervene in the case as interested parties."

Paul Mooney, a spokesman for And Castro for All, said that when the mediated settlement was reached with Natali in January, the complainants withdrew their complaint.

"The Badlands case was closed in January and the city's finding is not operative," Mooney said.

Attorney Dennis Riordan, who is representing Natali in the current legal dispute, did not return a call from the Bay Area Reporter seeking comment.

In her letter, Harmon outlines how in June last year she met with Natali and his then-attorneys to inform them she had agreed to Natali's request for reconsideration of the initial findings and reopened her agency's administrative record to accept additional information. After that meeting the two sides entered into mediation, and Harmon said before she issued her final decision on Natali's appeal the complaints were withdrawn.

For more than two years Natali has denied the allegations brought forth by former employees and patrons of his bar on 18th Street. The group originally called itself Is Badlands Bad? and later And Castro For All. A group of complainants filed its complaints against Natali in June 2004 with both the city's HRC and several state agencies. The state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control dismissed the charges after conducting a yearlong undercover investigation at the bar.

Only the city commission found evidence to support the charges but the HRC lacked any authority to place penalties on Natali since he is not a city contractor. In the meantime, as the group of eight complainants pressed Natali to enter into mediation to settle the matter, And Castro For All staged weekly Saturday night pickets outside his bar.

Former Mayor Willie Brown, at the behest of Mayor Gavin Newsom, eventually helped to mediate the confidential settlement between both sides that was finalized in January. As part of the agreement, the complainants withdrew their claims against Natali. In return, Natali asked HRC to reconsider its findings.

In April, HRC denied that request, leading Natali to file his lawsuit.

Cynthia Laird contributed to this report.

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