The Southern Poverty Law Center said in a release posted on its website that it filed suit in U.S. District Court against the town, its mayor and its aldermen on behalf of O'Hara's bar owner Pat Newton.
The legal advocacy organization alleges they are violating Newton's right to free speech and equal protection under the First and 14th amendments.
"The mayor and aldermen have no legitimate reason to deny Pat Newton the business license," David Dinielli, the center's deputy legal director, said in the release. "Their opposition is rooted in blatant hostility toward a legitimate business, simply because a lesbian would operate it and because it would serve the LGBT [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender] community. They have discriminated against our client, even relishing the opportunity to discriminate."
Newton had operated the bar from 1994 to 1998, serving primarily LGBT customers. She decided to reopen the bar and spent thousands of dollars renovating it, as well as obtaining state business and liquor licenses.
When she went to the city for a local business license in June, however, she ran into a hostile environment from city officials and townspeople, the law center said.
Newton's application was denied on a 4-1 vote after an adviser to the town board said that while she had met all application requirements, it could be denied on public health and safety concerns, the law center said.
In July, the board refused a request by the law center that it reconsider its decision.
"I simply want to open a business in Shannon that would mean so much to so many people," Newton said. "I was asked by people within this community to open this bar. I've met all of the town's requirements. It's sad that town officials have chosen to engage in ugly, discriminatory behavior that doesn't represent the town I know."
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