Judy Rae

Bar Hopping – Nehrenheim’s civil rights defense 86’d in Hennessey’s lawsuit

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Restauranteur Paul Hennessey alleges that Councilman Nils Nehrenheim unlawfully removed a sign, similar to the one pictured, from his bar as the basis for a lawsuit. File photo

by David Mendez

Redondo Beach City Councilman Nils Nehrenheim’s attempt to use a California anti-discrimination law as a defense in the ongoing lawsuit brought against him by restaurateur Paul Hennessey was rebuffed by a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge last week.

On April 10, Judge Deidre Hill ruled that Nehrenheim’s cross-complaint — which argued his rights were infringed upon under the Unruh Civil Rights Act — was invalid. However, Hill’s ruling left the door open for Nehrenheim to attempt to clarify his position at a later date.

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The Unruh act, enacted in 1959 and updated in 2005, outlaws discrimination against a person based on “sex, race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, disability, medical condition, genetic information, marital status, or sexual orientation.” In the decades since it was introduced, the California Supreme Court has repeatedly interpreted the law to allow for protecting classes outside those in the text of the law.

But Hill couldn’t find legal standing for “Hennessey’s Tavern’s refusal to allow him into its establishment based on Nehrenheim’s exercise of his constitutional rights of freedom of speech and petition has violated his right to be free from discrimination.”

The Unruh Act, Judge Hill wrote in a legal summary, doesn’t protect an individual who has been excluded from a business because of their conduct. Allowing Nehrenheim’s claim to proceed “would represent an unprecedented expansion of free speech protections from government and public property onto private parties and private property.”

Nehrenheim’s Unruh claim is the latest in his responses to a lawsuit filed by Hennessey that stems back to an April 2017 City Council vote, which ordered the outdoor dining deck to be removed from Hennessey’s Rebel Republic restaurant. Shortly after, Hennessey pulled aside Nehrenheim and Mayor Bill Brand during a private fundraiser at Hennessey’s HT Grill, and told them they were banned from his establishments.

Two months later, according to civil court filings, Nehrenheim is alleged to have entered Hennessey’s Tavern in Redondo Beach with an unidentified woman. The filings allege that, when he was recognized and asked to leave, he became belligerent, initially refused to leave the premises, then upon leaving tore down a sign that asked customers to lobby Brand and Nehrenheim in favor of the Rebel Republic dining deck.

A separate motion to dismiss the case under California’s Anti-SLAPP statute was also dismissed by a judge.

In an affidavit filed last October, Nehrenheim acknowledged that he was asked to leave Hennessey’s Tavern that night, but said he was not aware that he had previously been banned from the restaurant.

Nehrenheim’s statement runs contrary to a statement from Brand, made in an interview with Easy Reader earlier this year.

“[Hennessey] came up to us and said ‘I heard you guys screwed me over last night…on the vote about allowing a patio at Rebel Republic,’” Brand said. “Then he said he wanted us to know we were not to enter any of his establishments after today.”

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