Badlands faces discrimination complaint
by Seth Hemmelgarn
A San Francisco man is claiming that he was discriminated against at the popular Badlands nightclub when he tried to enter with his service dog.
Paul Ponsiglione, 25, said he and several friends went to the gay club, located at 4121 18th Street in the Castro district, at about 11:30 p.m. Sunday, February 9.
In a complaint filed with the city's Human Rights Commission just over two weeks later, Ponsiglione said the doorman stopped him and told him his dog, Xerxes, wasn't allowed inside. Ponsiglione told the man that Xerxes is a service animal and tried to show him the dog's tags.
The doorman "not only refused to look, but told me that he didn't care if the dog was a service animal, the bar policy was not to allow dogs in, period," even if they're service animals, Ponsiglione said.
In an interview, Ponsiglione, who asked that his medical conditions not be published, said Xerxes is a five- to six-month-old Great Dane, who's approximately 60 pounds and about two feet tall.
He provided the Bay Area Reporter with a letter from Jeffrey Manese at Kapla Medical Group that says, "Mr. Ponsiglione is using his dog as a service dog. His dog provides him with emotional comfort and support, which helps manage his long-standing medical condition."
Ponsiglione said he called Badlands owner Les Natali February 12 and told him what had happened. Natali said he'd investigate and call Ponsiglione back. Several days later, Ponsiglione said, Natali cited information from the doorman and said he'd been denied entry "because the bar was too crowded."
"Normally, they would never deny me service, only when the bar is too busy," he said Natali told him.
Ponsiglione told Natali "it is illegal for him to deny me service due to my service animal and medical need regardless of what time of day it is" or other factors. Natali told him "he would take this into consideration," he said.
On February 25, Ponsiglione said, Natali gave him a statement that says the dog had been "straining on its leash" and Ponsiglione and his friends "acted as if they had been drinking."
When the doorman said pets aren't allowed, Ponsiglione "claimed the dog was a 'service dog,' but he did not identify the service ... . Observing the dog appeared to be untrained, and its owner apparently inebriated and hostile, the doorman denied entry to the bar," Natali wrote.
He added that Badlands management "regrets this incident." The club's policy is to comply with the law, including allowing patrons with service dogs, he said.
Ponsiglione said, "I don't need to say what the service animal does, and it's actually not legal for him to ask me what the service animal does." He also said the bar had been "relatively busy," but there had been no line to get in.
He said he didnŐt believe it was accurate that Xerxes had been "straining." He also said he'd had "maybe one drink," but one of his friends was "tipsy."
In an interview, Natali said video shows the dog "trying to enter the bar and pulling on its leash," along with Ponsiglione "and his friends talking to the doorman, then it shows them walking away."
Natali refused to provide a copy of the footage.
In his complaint, Ponsiglione, who asked that his sexual orientation not be published, said he had six witnesses to the incident, but he didn't provide the B.A.R. with contact information for any of them.
In a revised statement that he sent to the B.A.R. , Natali wrote that Ponsiglione had "offered to refrain from making the claim if the bar paid him $10,000 in damages, which the bar declined to do."
Ponsiglione denied he made that offer, but, among other things, he said he had told Natali he'd had to take time off work and was racking up expenses. He told the B.A.R. $5,000 to $10,000 would be "reasonable."
He had also wanted an apology and is seeking "as much negative press for [Natali] as possible," Ponsiglione said. " ... I just don't want him to continue to get away with this."
Bianca Polovina, the HRC staffer Ponsiglione said has been assigned to his case, declined to comment on the matter, citing the agency's privacy practices.
This isn't the first time Natali has faced discrimination complaints. In 2004 a group of former patrons and employees accused Natali of racist and discriminatory business practices. Natali denied the accusations and the case was settled in mediation.