By JENNIFER SINCO KELLEHER
HONOLULU – Two Southern California women filed a lawsuit Monday against a Hawaii bed and breakfast, saying the business denied them a room because they are gay.
Aloha Bed & Breakfast discriminated against Diane Cervelli and Taeko Bufford, a couple living in California, claims the lawsuit filed on behalf of the women by Lambda Legal in First Circuit Court in Honolulu.
Cervelli, 42, called the business in 2007 to book a room because it’s in Hawaii Kai, the same east Honolulu neighborhood where the friend they were visiting lived. When she specified they would need one bed, the owner asked if they were lesbians. Cervelli responded truthfully and the owner said she was uncomfortable having lesbians in her house because of her religious views, the lawsuit said.
Refusing to let the couple book a room was solely based on their sexual orientation because the owner indicated that if they were married, she would not have allowed them to stay there, said their attorney, Peter Renn of Lambda Legal’s Los Angeles office. She also would have a problem if they were an unmarried heterosexual couple, he said.
The lawsuit claims the business violated Hawaii’s public accommodation law prohibiting any inn or other establishment that provides lodging from discriminating based on sexual orientation, race, sex, gender identity or expression, religion, ancestry or disability. Lambda Legal said there are 21 states that have public accommodation laws that protect against sexual orientation discrimination.
The couple ended up booking a room in Waikiki and the experience with the bed and breakfast “soured” their trip, Cervelli said Monday while in Honolulu with Bufford, 28. “In my past experiences in Hawaii, people have been so friendly,” she said. “It was just hurtful. It made me feel we weren’t good enough.”
Reached by phone, owner Phyllis Young declined to comment and referred questions to her attorney. Honolulu attorney Jim Hochberg said he is representing her on behalf of the Alliance Defense Fund, an organization of attorneys representing people whose religious freedom is infringed. He said he hadn’t yet seen the complaint.
According to the lawsuit, the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission investigated. During the investigation Young told the commission homosexuality is “detestable” and “defiles our land.” The commission issued a notice of “reasonable cause to believe that unlawful discriminatory practices have been committed” and notified the couple of their right to sue.
The lawsuit wants the business to be ordered to comply with the law, for the court to issue a declaration making clear what happened was illegal and for the couple to be awarded unspecified monetary compensation, Renn said: “No amount of money is going to erase the humiliation and pain.”
Renn said Lambda Legal is also looking into whether the bed and breakfast is licensed to operate. Aloha Bed & Breakfast is not on a list of properties approved for transient vacation unit or bed and breakfast use that have been issued nonconforming use certificates by Honolulu’s Department of Planning and Permitting.