News Release from Lambda Legal
(Honolulu, HI, December 19, 2011)—Lambda Legal filed a discrimination lawsuit today in the First Circuit Court of Hawai'i on behalf of a lesbian couple rejected by a commercial business establishment, Aloha Bed & Breakfast, because of the owner’s personal antigay beliefs.
“When you open the doors of your business to the public, Hawai'i law absolutely forbids you from discriminating against your customers. You can’t roll up the welcome mat when you see a lesbian or gay couple, just as you can’t refuse to do business with Jewish customers, African-American customers, or disabled customers,” said Peter Renn, staff attorney at Lambda Legal. “No business owner is above the law. If you choose to open a business, then you must play by the same rules that apply to everyone else—you don’t get to pick and choose the laws that you like.”
Lambda Legal represents Diane Cervelli and Taeko Bufford, a lesbian couple who were denied public accommodation because of their sexual orientation by Aloha Bed & Breakfast, located in Hawai'i Kai. Hawai'i’s public accommodation law prohibits any inn or “other establishment that provides lodging to transient guests” from discriminating based on sexual orientation, race, sex, gender identity or expression, religion, ancestry or disability.
Cervelli and Bufford were traveling to Hawai'i to visit a close friend and her newborn baby. The friend recommended Aloha Bed & Breakfast based on its proximity to the friend’s residence. In their first call to the business, the owner wanted to know whether Cervelli and Bufford were lesbians. When they answered truthfully, the owner refused to rent them a room because they were a lesbian couple.
Cervelli and Bufford filed discrimination complaints with the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission, which conducted an investigation and found reasonable cause to believe that illegal discrimination had occurred. During the investigation, the owner admitted that she turned the couple away because they were lesbians. She explained her personal belief that same-sex relationships are “detestable” and that they “defile our land.”
In another development today, the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission moved to intervene in the lawsuit as a plaintiff in order to protect and enforce the state antidiscrimination law, which Aloha Bed & Breakfast claims does not and cannot constrain its conduct.
“I can’t tell you how much it hurt to be essentially told, ‘we don’t do business with your kind of people.’ We don’t want anyone else to experience that and made to feel like they have no place in society. It still stings to this day,” Cervelli said. “We aren’t asking the owner to change her beliefs; we just want her to follow the law applicable to all Hawai'i businesses and not to deny us the same roof over our head that she provides to every other paying customer. We worked hard to save money to be able to visit our friend and her baby. We thought the days when business owners would say ‘we’re open to the public—but not to you’ was a thing of the past.”
Lambda Legal Staff Attorney Peter Renn is representing Diane Cervelli and Taeko Bufford with co-counsel Jay Handlin and Lindsay McAneeley at Carlsmith Ball LLP. The case is Cervelli v. Aloha Bed & Breakfast.
Read the complaint.