Kung Fu Problems

Popular Austin bar changes policies after discrimination accusations from feds

Popular Austin bar changes policies after discrimination accusations

Kung Fu Saloon Houston exterior
Kung Fu Saloon settled with the Justice Department following a suit alleging repeated discrimination of patrons based on race at locations in Houston, Austin and Dallas. kungfusaloonhouston.com

Popular party spot Kung Fu Saloon has agreed to implement changes after reaching a settlement with the U.S. Justice Department nearly three years after allegations surfaced that the bar denied entry to patrons based on race.

The feds alleged that Kung Fu Saloon violated Title II by barring African-American and Asian-American patrons at locations in Austin, Houston and Dallas. Businesses cannot discriminate based on "race, color, religion or national origin," as protected under Title II of the Federal Civil Rights Act. 

"The suit alleges that in dozens of instances, the defendants denied African-American patrons entry into Kung Fu Saloon locations based on a dress code when similarly dressed white patrons were permitted to enter," according to a press release from the Department of Justice. "The complaint also alleged that the defendants engaged in other practices to limit the number of African-American and Asian-American patrons at Kung Fu Saloon's locations."

Discrimination allegations
The first publicized incident of discrimination at Kung Fu Saloon took place at the Houston location in October 2012, when Doogie Roux, an African-American, was told that his high-top sneakers were against the establishment's dress code and was refused entry.

In August 2013, Stephen Robinson, an African-American man, reported that he was denied entry to Kung Fu Saloon's Austin location because he was wearing basketball shorts. His white friend, clad in similar attire, was allowed inside.

In May 2014, DeAndre Upshaw was denied entry to Kung Fu Saloon in Dallas as he was told his high-top Converse sneakers were "against the dress code." This statement was puzzling to Upshaw, an African-American, as several white members of his party were wearing similar shoes and they were admitted to the bar. The next day, Upshaw also posted the following video of a group of black men reportedly being denied entry for not wearing socks:

Still don't believe that Kung Fu Saloon Dallas is racist? CHECK OUT THIS VIDEO. A twitter follower sent me a clip of...

Posted by DeAndré Upshaw on Monday, May 19, 2014

Upshaw publicized the incident and began a social media campaign against the establishment using the hashtag #NoKungFu. Just days after being denied entry to the bar, Upshaw and hundreds of supporters participated in a silent walk past the Dallas location in a peaceful protest.

The settlement
Tuesday's settlement requires Washington Guys LLC, Routh Guys LLC and Grand Guys LLC, which operate Kung Fu Saloon locations in Houston, Dallas and Austin, respectively, to implement changes to policies and practices in order to prevent discrimination.

The Austin American-Statesman reports that the terms include:

  • Employees will undergo civil rights training within 90 days.
  • All three Kung Fu Saloon locations must have signs at the front door "stating that the establishment is open to all members of the public without regard to race, color, or national origin."
  • Signs must direct patrons who feel they’ve been discriminated against to contact a manager. If that is unsatisfactory, patrons are directed to call the U.S. Department of Justice.
  • Non-discrimination notices on Kung Fu Saloon’s website, Facebook pages and any advertisements.
  • Kung Fu Saloon must accept reservations for private events from customers of all races.
  • At Kung Fu Saloon’s expense, a contractor will test each location for compliance with the federal consent decree. 

Kung Fu Saloon denies the allegations in court documents but entered into the consent decree "to avoid protracted and costly litigation," the Statesman reports. An attorney for the defendants told the Houston Business Journal by email, "We want everyone to feel welcome at Kung Fu Saloon, which is why we worked closely with officials to find a mutually beneficial way to settle this matter."