Pregnant woman says she was kicked out of bar
Legal experts say taverns can't discriminate against expectant mothers
"Can I ask you a personal question?" Lee recalled him asking. "Are you pregnant?"
She responded yes because, at eight months along, it would have been difficult to argue otherwise, she said later.
Lee, 29, said the bouncer who was staffing the Coach House bar near Roselle didn't care that she was only drinking water.
She said he asked her to leave shortly after midnight Thursday, telling her the bar would be liable if anything happened to her. She complied, but grew angrier over the weekend, questioning whether she had been discriminated against as a pregnant woman.
"He just said, if anything happens, if a fight breaks out and you get hurt, we are responsible," Lee said. "That can happen anywhere. If I am going somewhere, I am taking responsibility."
Three different employees reached by phone at the bar declined to comment on Lee's allegation. Employees contacted in person also declined comment Tuesday. Messages left for the establishment's owners since Friday were not returned.
Civil rights experts said that, despite any good intentions, it would be wrong to send a woman packing just because she was pregnant.
"There are certain things for which you are not able to discriminate against someone, and one is their gender," said Ed Yohnka, an American Civil Liberties Union spokesman. "And only women can have babies. You can't discriminate against a pregnant person."
According to the Illinois Human Rights Act: "It is unlawful to discriminate in the full and equal enjoyment of facilities and services by any place of public accommodation."
The bar, open until 4 a.m., serves lunch and dinner.
Under state law, bars are required to post a sign that states: "According to the Surgeon General, women should not drink alcoholic beverages during pregnancy because of the risk of birth defects."
In Illinois, it is illegal to serve a guest who shows signs of intoxication, but it can also be illegal to deny service to a woman just because she is pregnant, said Sheila O'Grady, president of the Chicago-based Illinois Restaurant Association, which offers training on responsible alcohol service.
Chicago lawyer Martin Dolan, who handles civil rights and personal injury cases, said that a private bar may set its own rules, including behavior standards or a dress code, but that those rules must be established in advance and be obvious to customers, such as a visual posting.
"The key to this is being able to justify the legitimate reason, not just (pull something) out of the air," Dolan said.
The Cook County sheriff's department and Roselle police, who are called in as backup for incidents at the Coach House, said there are no local ordinances that ban pregnant women from bars
Lee, a Denver resident who grew up a few blocks away from the bar and was in town for her baby shower, said that she was humiliated by the experience. Later that morning, she went home and told her mother what happened.
"I was really put off when she told me," her mother, Phyllis Lee, said Monday. "She and a friend of hers went to Houlihan's (restaurant) yesterday and had something to eat, and they weren't asked to leave."
Michelle Lee said that on Thursday night she noticed the bouncer looking at her as she walked past him toward the restroom. She said that she and her friend, Lisa Ruiz, 29, had each ordered water, and Ruiz also ordered a shot of alcohol.
When they headed back toward their table, the bouncer asked to speak with Lee privately, Lee said. She asked why, but he insisted that they move to the front of the bar, she said.
Once there, he asked if she was pregnant, and then told her she would have to leave. When Ruiz chimed in that her friend was drinking water, he said that it didn't matter. If anything happened to her, the bar owners could be held liable, he told them.
"They more or less escorted her out," said Ruiz, of Hoffman Estates. "I was actually shocked because we have gone there before."
Lee is considering contacting a lawyer, she said.
"I wasn't causing any trouble," she said. "I just want to be treated like everybody else."
Tribune reporter Robert McCoppin contributed to this report.
I would really like to hear your comments on this article. What do think about a pregnant women being kicked out a bar?