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Nightclub Sued for Banning Blacks

April 14, 1995

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Justice Department accused a Louisiana nightclub Thursday of refusing to admit blacks, including a federal prosecutor who handles civil rights cases.

A civil suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Shreveport, La., alleged that the owners of La Poussiere nightclub in Breaux Bridge, La., violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The black prosecutor, Zaldwaynaka ``Zee″ Scott, and her two white colleagues, Helene Greenwald and Matthew Bettenhausen, filed a separate suit Thursday seeking $100,000 in compensatory damages and $100,000 in punitive damages.

All three are assistant U.S. attorneys in Chicago. They sought to enter the nightclub April 16, 1994, while they were visiting Louisiana for a conference.

``Over three decades ago, Congress spoke for all decent Americans by making it illegal to exclude people from places like this because of their skin color,″ said Assistant Attorney General Deval L. Patrick, head of the civil rights division. ``It is startling that 30 years later this club still hasn’t gotten the message.″

Chester Cedars, an attorney for the nightclub, called the civil damages being sought by the government lawyers in their separate suit excessive. He accused the government of sending out press releases about the case to pressure the club into settling the separate suit by the three lawyers.

``... I can’t imagine how a U.S. attorney would be embarrassed to that degree,″ Cedars said.

He also said the club’s owners, Lawrence Patin and his father, Ovey, had already agreed to enter into a consent decree to ``remediate any possible discrimination.″

The government said that when the prosecutors reached the club, two remained in the car while Greenwald walked to the door to see if the club were open. The person at the door said it was open, with a $2 cover charge.

But when Greenwald returned with Scott, a Shreveport native, the person at the door said they could not enter because the club was hosting a private party, the government said.

Greenwald then asked three white customers who were approaching the club if they were there for a private party and was told they were not, but she saw them admitted after paying the $2 cover, the private suit said.

The person at the door then told Greenwald that the three prosecutors had been denied entry because Ms. Scott was black, the private suit said. Later, Bettenhausen returned to the club and was admitted upon paying the $2.

The Justice Department said an investigation begun by a complaint from the three prosecutors showed the club had denied blacks entry on other occasions by claiming there was a private party.

The government asked for a court order declaring the club’s actions illegal and prohibiting them in the future. Justice spokesman Myron Marlin said the government had tried unsuccessfully to negotiate a settlement with the club owners.

``Unlawful racial discrimination remains a problem throughout the country as well as here in Louisiana,″ said U.S. Attorney Michael D. Skinner in Lafayette, La. ``We hope by taking legal action such as this we will stop the despicable practice of denying access to public facilities solely because of the color of one’s skin.″

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