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By Janice Morse
Enquirer staff writer
MASON - A tavern's sign, "For Service Speak English," violates Ohio civil rights law, a commission ruled Thursday - as the sign still sat in the window of the Pleasure Inn on U.S. 42.
The Ohio Civil Rights Commission says that, because of the sign, the Pleasure Inn "engaged in discriminatory practices."
As a result of the finding, the business could be ordered to remove the sign, to pay for advertisements about nondiscrimination, and its staff could be ordered to undergo diversity training or cultural sensitivity training, said Christia Alou White, commission spokeswoman.
The business has 10 days to ask the commission to reconsider. Pleasure Inn owner Tom Ullum, 63, of Lebanon, couldn't be reached for comment Thursday and his lawyer, Jay Revelson, declined to comment.
But the commission, in its letter of determination, said: "Mr. Ullum, who identifies himself as a full-blooded American, believes that he has the right to post in his window whatever he pleases. He insists that he does not discriminate against anyone. However, he does believe that immigrants who live in this country should learn to speak English."
Housing Opportunities Made Equal, a Mount Auburn-based agency that handles fair-housing issues for eight counties including Warren, filed a complaint with the commission in July after callers complained.
"I really think it's an affront to Hispanic families in the area, and I'm glad that the commission agreed that it's illegal discrimination," said Elizabeth Brown, HOME's executive director.
Ohio law says it is unlawful for any proprietor "of a place of public accommodation" to deny the "full enjoyment" of the accommodations based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, age or ancestry.
In its complaint, HOME asserted that the sign was intended to keep Hispanics from entering the premises, and that the sign "discloses to the public that the Pleasure Inn refuses service to individuals based on national origin," the commission said.
However, the commission said Ullum responded that "the sign means exactly what it says. ... None of (the tavern's) employees speak any language other than English and, therefore, would be unable to communicate with any patrons who are not versed in the English language."
Ullum also said the inn neither refuses service nor prohibits anyone from entering the premises based upon sex, color, race or national origin.
But the commission says: "The English-only rule applied by the Pleasure Inn serves no purpose other than to discriminate against non-English speaking individuals.
"The enforcement of this rule perpetuates an atmosphere of exclusion and imposes a badge of inferiority upon the non-English speaking community.
"This type of 'second-class citizenship' treatment is precisely the type of egregious conduct that the Ohio Civil Rights Act is aimed at eliminating."
G. Michael Payton, the commission's executive director, said, "With its ever-growing numbers and since Sept. 11, 2001, new immigration and language access remains a critical community and political issue."
He agrees that it is "imperative that all residents learn to speak English in order to participate in the American culture, employment and life."
But Payton said that goal will require an investment in organizations that serve people who are new immigrants and have limited English skills.