Black Man Sues Portland Club Over Claims of Racial Profiling

A Black man in Oregon filed a $500,000 lawsuit against the owner of a Pearl District bar in Portland after he was allegedly barred from entering the establishment for wearing “too many” chain necklaces.

Ray Lamont Peterson claimed the club used his attire as a means to keep the club’s patronship predominantly white. The 34-year-old said he went to Splash Bar, also known as Splash Ultra Lounge, for a friend’s birthday party in August 2018.

When he attempted to enter, Peterson was told by security he could not enter because his necklaces violated the dress code. Security reportedly failed to provide Peterson with the dress code requirements upon request. A photo provided by Peterson’s attorney to The Oregonian/OregonLive shows Peterson wearing a black T-shirt, jeans, and four thick chains.

“[Peterson] then asked to talk to a manager who told [Peterson] they did not want that kind’ of ‘riff raff’ in the club,” the lawsuit filed on August 19 said. “[Peterson] asked what that was supposed to mean and protested that others wearing necklaces had been allowed entry that night. The manager responded that he could come into the club if he took one or two of his chains off.” In the lawsuit, Peterson said one of the owners of Splash Bar, Chris Lenahan, uses a radio to instruct security staff to begin “arbitrarily enforcing a dress code against African Americans” when he believed the club’s patrons were getting “too dark.” The lawsuit, filed in Multnomah County Circuit Court, alleges that Lenahan also used racist slurs to refer to Black patrons.

According to Peterson’s suit, the club and its security team violated an Oregon law that prohibits “unlawful discrimination” in a place of accommodation. Peterson is also suing the security company Top Flyte Entertainment and Security.

The North Star reached out to Top Flyte Entertainment and Security for comment, but did not hear back in time for publication.

Lenahan told The Oregonian/OregonLive the lawsuit’s allegations were “ridiculous.” He maintained that he has never used the racist term mentioned in the lawsuit. Lenahan also said he and his partners own and manage “the most diverse clubs” with “the most diverse clientele.”

Splash Bar did not respond to The North Star’s request for additional comment.

This is not the first time Lenahan has been accused of racially discriminating against Black patrons at his Portland nightclubs. In June, Lenahan settled a potential $5.5 million lawsuit that accused him of directing staff to limit the number of Black patrons in his bars.

The lawsuit, filed in Multnomah County Circuit Court by Sam Thompson, alleged Lenahan used racist slurs and a selective no-gang-colors dress code in order to limit Black patrons from entering his clubs. Thompson, who is Black, said he attempted to enter Dirty Nightlife on Northwest Third Avenue and Couch Street in May 2017 but was denied. He was allegedly told he could not enter the club because he was wearing a red sweatshirt and red shoes.

Prior to the settlement, several former employees were scheduled to testify against Lenahan during the trial, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported. One former worker was going to testify that Lenahan ordered security to bar Portland Trail Blazers players LaMarcus Aldridge and Dante Cunningham, who are both Black, sometime between 2010 and 2011.

Court documents filed by Thompson’s lawyers revealed that Splash Bar manager Artie Haws said Lenahan told him to manage the “color of the club” like a pie chart to avoid the club from becoming “too dark.” Lenahan allegedly told the manager he did not want more than 30 percent of customers to be Black because he did not want the establishment to be viewed as a “Black bar.”

Thompson’s lawsuit also alleged the well-known nightclub owner directed staff to limit the entry of other racial minorities, including Asians. He told The Oregonian/OregonLive that Portland nightclubs’ use of dress codes to limit Black patronage is notorious among the African American community.

“In Portland, there’s not a lot of overt racism — it’s not a city where you run around and you get called the n-word,” Thompson said. “It’s more a place where systems and policies are in place that create that divide.”

Thompson and Lenahan reached an undisclosed monetary settlement. The nightclub owner also reportedly agreed to drop the no-gang-colors dress code at Dirty Nightlife and the Paris Theatre.

About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various venues, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.