Correction: As of the publication of this story, law director Kevin Butler had not requested the audio recording of the incident.
Just 4 Girlz, a Detroit Avenue women’s clothing store, has filed a federal lawsuit alleging racial discrimination based on a recent city inspection.
Filed by Just 4 Girlz co-owner Steven Kessler, the lawsuit claims that a city inspector made racist remarks during an August building inspection.
Kessler’s wife, and co-owner of the boutique, Gloria Kessler, is of Hispanic heritage.
“They told us not to hire brown-skinned people,” Steven Kessler told Lakewood Patch. “My wife hangs a Mexican flag, and they told us to hang an American flag. That’s illegal.”
Kevin Butler, the city’s law director, who was one of nine city employees name in the lawsuit, called the allegations “baseless.”
“I’ve reviewed the lawsuit, and it’s our position that this is absurd,” said Butler. “It proves the point that people can just make up allegations.”
He added that the city plans to “aggressively” defend the lawsuit.
Among the other city employees named in the lawsuit are Mayor Michael Summers and building inspector Kevin Kelley.
The lawsuit alleges that the city “violated federally secured rights on the basis of race protected under the First Amendment of the US Constitution, the Fourteenth Amendement and tortious interference with prospective business relationship.”
The nine city employees will likely be represented by attorneys hired by the city, Butler said.
Kessler claims he has an audio recording of the exchange.
Butler penned a letter to the Just 4 Girlz’ attorney Donald Harris asking to "preserve and retain" any recordings of the incident.
The Kesslers, both Huron residents, opened the store in August 2011.
Among building departments’ findings during the inspection was that the number of signs displayed in the storefront window violate the sign code.
“The city has gotten anonymous complaints that the signs were an issue,” Butler said. “Kevin Kelley went out there and had a friendly exchange with the employee. He didn’t even issue a correction notice.”
The next day, Gloria Kessler went to Lakewood City Hall and agreed to take the correction notice, Butler said.
Then a couple weeks later, the lawsuit was filed in US Northern Ohio District Court.
Kessler said he believes the city is “picking favorites.”
“We’re not going anywhere and we’re not going to back down,” he said. “They should be fair and enforce the same rules.”