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SALT LAKE CITY — Frank Maea is taking legal action after a bartender at Willie's Lounge refused to serve him because of his race.
"I gave the bartender my ID and she looked up at me and said 'I can't serve Polynesians," Maea said. "And I was like, 'What? You can't?' So then I said, 'You have got to be kidding me, why?' So she didn't say and then she looked at me and said 'I could lose my job,'" Maea said.
Maea's lawyer, Dustin Lance, believes they have a case against the establishment based on racial discrimination.
"If the bartender was following the owner's instructions and the owner's policy then the owner is going to be responsible," Lance said.
Lance Andrews P.C. is handling the investigation which is still in the early stages.
"We are going to…get everybody's side of the story and when we do that we are going to evaluate all of the legal options," Lance said.
As for the rights of the restaurant, University of Utah law professor Clifford Rosky said establishments can generally refuse service to anyone they want but there are some exceptions.
"This is known as a public accommodations law and it says you can refuse service to anyone but not because of the race, their ancestry, their national origin, their sex or their religion," Rosky said.
Rosky believes Maea and his friend have the option of filing a complaint with the Utah Attorney General who can investigate whether the business practices racial discrimination. He said if it does, the restaurant can be ordered to close and Maea and his friend can also sue privately for damages.
The owner of Willie's Lounge, Jeremy Cloyd, reacted to the possible lawsuit Thursday night.
"This is an unfortunate misunderstanding but I am not surprised given the backlash I've received since the incident," Cloyd said.