A woman is seeking $2 million in damages from a Beverly Hills nightclub that she says refused to admit more than 100 guests to her 21st birthday party because they are black.
Rashawn LeVias accused Nightscene, a private disco at 140 S. Rodeo Drive, of racial discrimination in a lawsuit filed last month in Los Angeles Superior Court. A hearing date has not been set.
LeVias' attorney, Dennis Moss, said the club violated her rights under the state's Unruh Civil Rights Act of 1959.
Nightscene changed ownership on Jan. 1, but both the past and present owners insist that the club does not discriminate.
"We have members who are black and who come here all the time," said Ghasem Ghasemi, who owned the club on Sept. 27, the date of LeVias' party. "We are just here to make money. It doesn't make any difference who pays us." Aspartacus Santoni is the new owner but Ghasemi still works there as the manager of the bar.
Ghasemi said guests were not admitted to the party because their attire did not conform to the dress code, which calls for men to wear jackets and forbids T-shirts, sneakers and jeans. Moss said, however, that the club refused to admit blacks because a local television crew was filming inside the disco and "wanted to project a television image of a predominantly white, yuppie night club."
LeVias, who is black, said she decided to have the party at the club because she had gone there often and liked it. Santoni said that she was granted a temporary membership to have the party as promotion for the club.
LeVias said the club mailed her 250 guest invitations even though she was not a member. Her guests included relatives, friends, fellow students and co-workers at a law firm where she is a receptionist. "I invited all my friends and my friends are both black and white," she said in an interview.
But Santoni said the club has never allowed more than 35 guests for a single birthday party because the club only holds about 250 people. He and Ghasemi said they did not know how LeVias got the invitations.
According to the invitations, guests arriving before 10:15 p.m. were to be admitted free. Those arriving after would have to pay a $10 admission charge. LeVias was not required to pay a deposit for her party.
The party started about 9 p.m. but when LeVias' friends arrived at the club with their invitations, she said, whites were ushered in while most of her black friends were stopped at the front door. Even her mother was detained, she said.
LeVias said six of her black guests and all 27 of her white guests were allowed in.
As a result, she said, more than 100 black friends were not allowed in. "It was supposed to be a happy occasion but it turned into a nightmare," she said.
"I had never experienced prejudice before," said LeVias, a junior at USC. "I guess that was my birthday present."
LeVias and Moss said they believe the club refused to allow more blacks into the club because that night KCBS was filming a "dream dates" segment for a program called "Friday at Sunset." A station spokesman said that the segment has aired but that KCBS would not comment on the suit.
Moss, in an Oct. 28 letter to the club owners, alleged that the presence of camera crews triggered the decision not to admit many of LeVias' black guests.
One of them was Sheryl Gray, a 31-year-old medical secretary, who said a doorman told her that crews "were filming in the club and there were no blacks in the film and so they were not allowing blacks in." Gray said she "sneaked into the club" behind a white couple.
Another black guest, Dennis Oakley, 26, said he "figured it would be a matter of time before the pressure of so many people standing outside would force them to open the doors, but they didn't. White people were being let in whether they were on the list or not." Oakley said he and a friend finally tired of waiting and left.
Stacy Bunnage, a white UCLA student, said she attended the party with a date who also is white. "We were late and there was a crowd outside, but because I've never met any of Rashawn's friends I did not know why they were there," she said. "When we arrived the man at the door reached his hand through the crowd and pulled us to the front and we were let in."
Carolyn Wimsatt, LeVias' mother, arrived after 9 p.m. "I met a man at the door who told me I could not get in. I told him, 'What do you mean I can't get in? I'm her mother.' " she said. Wimsatt said the man asked her for identification and she was allowed into the club when the people outside began yelling that she was LeVias' mother.
"When I got inside, Rashawn was crying hysterically. She said, 'These people won't let my friends in,' " her mother said.
Richard Grey and Ronald Grueskin, two white attorneys at the law firm where LeVias works, were also invited to the party.