Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 8 / 22 February 2018

Natali sues HRC


Les Natali. Photo: Rick Gerharter
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A Castro bar owner found by a city agency to have discriminated against women and African Americans filed suit last week to overturn the findings, claiming they have harmed his reputation and businesses.

SF Badlands owner Les Natali is suing the city's Human Rights Commission and its director, Virginia M. Harmon, in San Francisco Superior Court, seeking a court order to overturn the HRC staff report issued on April 26, 2005.

In his lawsuit, filed Wednesday, June 28, Natali claims that the HRC report is "unauthorized and factually unsupported" and "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 claims in the lawsuit.

Natali could not be reached for comment. He has retained the law firm of San Francisco attorney Dennis Riordan. Riordan said he took the case because he believes Natali has a valid claim in wanting to clear his name.

"Nothing came of this. None of these allegations were ever substantiated and yet there are news articles and Internet reports that say he is guilty of discrimination, which is not the case," Riordan said. "It is a very damaging thing to have someone plug in your name and find something on the Internet that says you are a racist. People take what they see as gospel. It is out there and it shouldn't be. The good and fair thing to do is withdraw the findings."

In Natali's lawsuit, Riordan argues that the HRC had no authorization to determine that Natali violated city codes, and its only role should have been "to provide recommendations ... to help eliminate discriminatory practices. Yet the HRC finding ... does not contain a single recommendation."

Larry Brinkin, the HRC staff member who oversaw the agency's Badlands investigation, disputed Natali's and his attorney's argument that the city commission had no jurisdiction in the matter.

"We did a very thorough investigation. It is authorized by city ordinance. The issuance of a report following an investigation is the logical outcome. And we did our job," said Brinkin. "We are very disappointed he is opening this up again."

According to Brinkin, Natali's lawsuit is the first time in the 42-year history of the commission that someone has sued to overturn its findings.

"It is not typical," Brinkin said of the legal action.

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.

In an e-mail, a spokesman for the group defended the HRC finding as valid. "The San Francisco City Attorney's office reviewed, revised, and ultimately signed off on the city's original Finding before it was released in April of 2005," stated AC4A co-founder Don Romesburg.

The group 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 mediated a 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 the HRC to reconsider its findings.

In April, the HRC denied that request, leading Natali to file his lawsuit. Along with withdrawal of the findings against him, Natali is seeking attorney fees and "whatever additional relief may be warranted."

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