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City of Austin v. Driskill Hotel
Carlos A. Ball, From the Closet to the Courtroom
In 1976 the city of Austin, Texas, (plaintiff) enacted an ordinance that made it a misdemeanor for places of public accommodation to discriminate against people based on sexual orientation, punishable by a $200 fine. The stately and historic Driskill Hotel (the hotel) (defendant), where most Texas governors in the last century held their inaugural balls, opened a dance bar called the Cabaret the following year. The Cabaret attracted a small local contingent of gay clientele. Worried that the Cabaret would become known as a gay club, the hotel instituted a house rule prohibiting same-sex couples from dancing together. When hotel staff started asking same-sex couples dancing together to leave, word spread through the Austin lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community. A group of four students, two men and two women, went to the Cabaret with a city attorney and a member of the city’s antidiscrimination commission. When the students danced as same-sex couples, a hotel manager demanded that they leave. The commission investigated, and the city attorney charged the Driskill with violating the antidiscrimination ordinance. The city attorney’s office enlisted the help of a young California attorney, Matthew Coles, who had helped draft San Francisco’s gay-rights law. At trial, the hotel argued its rule did not discriminate against gays because it applied to anyone dancing with a member of the same sex, gay or not. To prove the policy nonetheless disparately impacted gays, Coles hired four experts to testify that people usually dance with the sex they prefer. But all four experts pulled out the day before trial. Instead, Coles found someone who owned two discos in Austin—one gay, one straight—to testify about dance-partner preferences. The students who danced together also testified, explaining how the Driskill made them feel like second-class citizens and how difficult it was to be openly gay. The hotel countered that even if most same-sex couples dancing together are gay, that did not make its neutral policy antigay.
Rule of Law
Holding and Reasoning
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