The legal struggle between an AIDS patient and a trendy West Hollywood nail salon accelerated this week as the patient filed a lawsuit against Jessica's Nail Clinic and the salon's defense attorney said he would challenge the constitutionality of the city's anti-discrimination law.
Paul Jasperson, whose brush with the nail salon last year spurred West Hollywood to charge owner Jessica Vartoughian with violating the city's anti-discrimination law, filed his own lawsuit against Vartoughian on Tuesday.
"It's important that people with AIDS don't suffer any kind of discrimination," Jasperson said.
The lawsuit alleges that by refusing to give Jasperson a pedicure, the nail salon not only violated West Hollywood's anti-discrimination law, but also the California Civil Rights Act. Jasperson's attorney, Gloria Allred, said he would seek damages "to be determined by the court" and a court order requiring the salon to give him a pedicure.
"Irrational fear cannot be permitted as an excuse to deny rights to a minority," Allred said. "This case presents a unique challenge not only to the law, but also to the conscience. We will not rest until persons with AIDS enjoy all of the protections which the law can provide."
Joseph B. Copelan, the defense attorney for Jessica's, said Jasperson's lawsuit added nothing to West Hollywood's criminal charge against the salon. "This stirs up additional litigation that is unnecessary," Copelan said.
Allred contended that Jasperson's lawsuit explores new ground in asserting that the nail salon violated the state's Civil Rights Act. Allred said that when Vartoughian canceled Jasperson's pedicure appointment last July, she violated the state law when she told him that her salon was not taking any more male customers.
"That is pure sex discrimination," Allred said. "They should be taking any male or female customer who wants an appointment."
Ironically, Copelan cited that same state civil rights law Tuesday at Vartoughian's arraignment in Beverly Hills Municipal Court.
Although Vartoughian was not present at the arraignment (defendants are not required to appear in misdemeanor arraignments), Copelan asked Judge Judith Stein to allow Vartoughian to delay her plea until the constitutionality of the city ordinance is determined. Stein set a Feb. 3 court date for arguments on the law's validity.
Copelan said the city's anti-discrimination law is unconstitutional because it tries to regulate matters already governed by the state Civil Rights Act. "We will argue that the municipality has attempted to usurp a field that is already occupied by the state," Copelan said. "The state law is sufficiently broad as it is."
Copelan charged that the city's anti-discrimination law was passed by the West Hollywood City Council as a "political gesture." He added that the city's prosecution of Vartoughian is also politically motivated.
The attorney has said that Vartoughian correctly denied Jasperson a pedicure to "protect the safety of her clients and the general public." Copelan said Vartoughian had a legitimate fear that sharp instruments used for the pedicure could draw blood infected with AIDS.
But in Jasperson's civil suit against the salon, the legitimacy of those fears are questioned by Dr. Neil Schram, an internist on the Los Angeles city and county AIDS Task Force. In an affidavit, Schram said pedicurists are "at an extremely low risk of contracting AIDS from a client when performing services."
Copelan replied that Vartoughian will also rely on medical testimony to back her concerns about the spreading of AIDS during pedicures. "We also have doctors," the attorney said.