Liquor licenses at five Red Onion restaurants in Southern California will be briefly suspended as a result of a state investigation that confirmed "a pattern of racial discrimination" at the popular chain.
"There was a pattern of racial discrimination practiced at various Red Onion premises," said John Thompson, assistant director of the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control's southern division. It marked the first time the department has suspended an establishment's license for violating state anti-discrimination laws.
Thompson said Red Onion officials, who have repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, have agreed to the suspension, set for May.
'A Fair Resolution'
"Under the circumstances, it's a fair resolution of a difficult problem," said Red Onion attorney Ralph Saltsman. "I'm glad that we will have reached peace with the ABC."
Under terms of the agreement, which is expected to be finalized next week, Red Onion outlets in Santa Ana, Riverside and Palm Desert were given 30-day liquor license suspensions with 20 days stayed, meaning the suspensions will be for 10 days.
Two other Red Onion restaurants, in Fullerton and Lakewood, agreed to 30-day suspensions with 25 days stayed as long as no further violations occur.
"They can stay open for food or soft drinks for that time, but no alcohol," Thompson said. Red Onion officials declined to say how much the suspension in five of their 14 locations will cost them in liquor sales.
Stopped at Door
Allegations about racial bias at the Red Onion arose in April when two blacks, two Latinos and two Middle Easterners alleged that they were stopped at the front door of the Santa Ana restaurant, ostensibly on grounds that their driver's licenses did not look like them or that they failed to meet the dress code.
Dozens of complaints from minority patrons followed, resulting in a flurry of governmental investigations and civil lawsuits against the Carson-based company. In July, the company announced a far-reaching plan to correct what it called "the perception of a problem," including the adoption of a non-discriminatory hiring and training policy, an outreach program to minority communities and a nationwide search for minority vendors with whom to do business.
The Red Onion this week reiterated its position that it does not discriminate against minorities.
The agreement with the ABC is the second that the Red Onion has reached with state agencies. Last year, under a settlement with the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing, the Red Onion agreed to pay $500 each to 39 people who complained that they were kept out of the nightclubs because of racial bias.