A.G. Schneiderman Announces Agreement With Midtown Nightclub Ensuring Equal Access For All Patrons

Circle Nightclub To Stop Discriminating Against Clubgoers, Adopt New Admission Policies And Practices As Required By Law And Pay $20,000 In Penalties

Schneiderman: Businesses Cannot Refuse Entry On The Basis Of Race Or Ethnicity

NEW YORK - Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced an agreement with the owners of Circle, a popular nightclub in midtown Manhattan, that will help ensure that consumers have equal access to New York's businesses. After reviewing numerous complaints and conducting an investigation into Circle's admissions policies and practices, the Attorney General’s Civil Rights Bureau concluded that the club was excluding customers on the basis of race and ethnicity. Under today's agreement, Circle will adopt new policies that will help ensure that no patron is subject to discriminatory treatment and ensure the club complies fully with its obligations under state law.

Under the agreement, the club will pay $20,000 in penalties to the state.  The State Attorney General’s Office is offering restitution to impacted individuals, including $2,000 for a patron who was repeatedly denied entry to the Club and $500 to several other patrons who alleged discriminatory treatment at the door.

“Any business in New York State that is open to the public must be open to all races and ethnicities, and discrimination will not be tolerated. That's just as true in New York City’s vibrant night clubs as it is anywhere else,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “A resolution like this ensures another step toward equal treatment for all consumers in New York.”

In June 2012,after reviewing close to a dozen complaints that the club was basing admissions decisions on the race and ethnicity of patrons, the Attorney General's Office opened a formal investigation into Circle. The investigation revealed that on nights when Circle was open to the public, Circle was admitting patrons of Korean descent, while denying similar patrons of other races and ethnicities. The methods of exclusion included forcing those of latter groups to make reservations in advance, or buy expensive bottle service, while not requiring the same of the club's Korean patrons and enforcing the nightclub's dress code unevenly. 

Both the New York Human Rights Law and the New York Civil Rights Law, prohibit places of public accommodation from denying access to any person on the basis of that person's race or national origin.  Today's agreement requires Circle to make changes that will bring its admissions policies and practices in to compliance with the law.  Those changes include drafting and adopting new dress code and reservation policies, and training its employees to apply those policies in a fair non-discriminatory manner.  In addition, Circle agreed to carefully investigate complaints of discrimination at the nightclub, and to report its findings to the Attorney General's Office. 

Patrick Thomas, a complainant in the Attorney General's investigation,said, "When I realized that I wasn’t getting into Circle because of my race I was shocked.  Nightclubs, restaurants, theaters, hotels and other businesses can’t just shut people out because of the color of their skin or where they are from.   My experience left me feeling insulted and degraded.  New York City is a vibrant and diverse place, and anyone, regardless of race or ethnicity, should be able to participate in and enjoy that diversity.  I take comfort in knowing that New Yorkers can rely on the Attorney General to fight discrimination, and ensure that this state’s businesses are open to everyone."

Esmeralda Simmons, Executive Director of the Center for Law and Social Justice,said, "Civil rights laws which prohibit discrimination in places of public accommodation, including nightclubs, hotels, restaurants, and theaters play an important role in our city. All persons deserve the right to enjoy equal access to these facilities regardless of their racial background.  We applaud the Attorney General's Office for taking steps to combat discriminatory practices and enforcing laws that require that public businesses provide full and equal access for all persons."

The case is being handled by Volunteer Assistant Attorney General Ajay Saini, under the supervision of Civil Rights Bureau Chief Kristen Clarkeand First Deputy of Affirmative Litigation Janet Sabel.

The Civil Rights Bureau is committed to combating discrimination and protecting the rights of all New Yorkers.  To file a complaintwith the Bureau, contact 212-416-8250 or civil.rights@ag.ny.gov.

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