Houston nightclub 360 Midtown, formerly Gaslamp, faces discrimination lawsuit from DOJ

HOUSTON — Three strikes you're out? In the case of 360 Midtown, a popular Houston night club and bar formally known as Gaslamp, the U.S. Department of Justice will have to decide.

The Justice Department filed a discrimination lawsuit Monday against Ayman Jarrah the owner of Land Guardian Inc., which owns 360 Midtown at 2400 Brazos Street.

Since 2014, the venue's staff and managers have been accused countless times of discriminating against African-American, Hispanic and Asian-American patrons. Jarrah has allegedly instructed his employees to implement racially discriminatory practices such forcing minorities to pay a cover, court documents said. The owner has even used racial slurs and other derogatory terms to get his point across, the lawsuit said.

If Jarrah and Land Gaurdian are found guilty of enforcing such practices, DOJ said the owner and company will be in direct violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In September 2015, three African-American attorneys said they tried to get into the bar, known at the time as Gaslamp, but asked to pay a cover charge. One of the men, Brandon Ball, detailed the incident a hours later on Facebook. The post said Ball and his friends were asked to pay $20 but saw white patrons getting into the venue for free moments later.

At the time, an attorney for Gaslamp said bouncers will often charge a cover for groups of men who don't have any women with them. The attorney also said the men were asked to pay because they were trying to get into a VIP section, something that Ball said he and his friends had no idea even existed.

"I don't think we did anything wrong," Jarrah told NewsFix last October. "They're just too sensitive about it. I've been rejected from a lot of places in this city, and (I say) 'Okay, have a good day.' I don't have to come back."

What does DOJ's case do for the case Ball and his two co-plaintiffs filed last October? Well, it certainly doesn't hurt it!

"Before the DOJ files a lawsuit, they do an independent investigation," says Ball's attorney Ike Okorafor, "so it feels good to know that the Department of Justice came along, investigated Gaslamp for some months, and came to the conclusion that they were violating federal laws."

The bar had a sign posted, saying they reserved the right to refuse service to anyone. Wouldn't that cover them?

"The Federal law is that in places of public accommodation where businesses let the general public in, they can't discriminate against people based on their race, color, gender, outside appearance. They have to let everybody in on the same terms," Okorafor said.

Jarrah's lawyer told us they look forward to "prevailing on this claim in court," adding, 'The Title 2 Civil Rights Act claim filed (Wednesday) is the same claim dismissed in the ball discrimination case.'

Okorafor begs to differ saying, "Skybar's trying to make everybody believe that part of our claims were dismissed by a judge. A judge has never ruled on any part of our lawsuit."

Instead, Ball's lawyers chose to drop the Title 2 Civil Rights part of the lawsuit.

"By voluntarily dismissing our Title 2 claim," Okorafor said. "It gave incentive for the Department of Justice to become involved, then investigate the claims against Gaslamp. The DOJ brought their lawsuit independent of ours, and our lawsuit is still going forward."

Although, Okorafor said the two lawsuits could be merged at some point.

There was also an incident in November 2014 when the bouncers charged four Asian-Americans a cover while the patrons witnessed white visitors being allowed to enter for free, court documents said. The lawsuit stated throughout the years, the venue has denied numerous minorities entrance based on alleged dress code violation when similarly dressed white club goers were allowed to enter.

It seems slapping on a fresh coat of paint and a new name can't help you hide from old problems.