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Thursday, August 09, 2007

Nightclub accused of discrimination

Level denies entry to man wearing a turban

The national Sikh Coalition is demanding that a Chicago bar change its policies after it denied entry to a man wearing a turban.

The coalition is charging that St. Louis resident Nick Pujji, a 24-year-old law student, was turned away from Level Night Club Chicago, 1045 N. Rush, in the early morning of July 8.

As a member of the Sikh faith, Pujji must wear a turban and beard. On the evening of July 7, Pujji, who was born and raised in the United States, also wore a button-down white dress shirt and jeans.

At about 2:15 a.m., Pujji and a friend went to Level to meet people waiting for them there. Pujji said he had shown his identification and was ready to pay the $20 entry fee when the bouncer at the door told him he couldn't come in.

"He said I can't permit you to walk in with that," Pujji said. "He made a circle motion around his head."

Pujji explained that the turban was a part of his faith and that he had to wear it. He pointed out that he wore the turban in his driver's license.

Manager Niko Alvertos approached.

"He said, 'Look, you can't walk in with that,'" Pujji said. "I chuckled because it was so outrageous. I have the right to wear this as a symbol."

Alvertos didn't mention a club policy against hats or other head garb, Pujji said. The manager wasn't hostile, but didn't relent, and said a Supreme Court decision supported his right to deny him entry, Pujji said. Pujji left, and his friend, who is white and non-Sikh, went inside.

"That's something that would clearly fall as an act of discrimination" under Illinois and city of Chicago human rights acts, said Ed Yohnka, spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois.

Reached on his cell phone July 27, Alvertos refused to comment.

On July 19, the Sikh Coalition faxed Alvertos a letter that said he had violated state and federal anti-discrimination laws.

"We hope to resolve the matter without going to court; however, if they refuse to change their policy we will do so in order to vindicate Mr. Pujji's rights," Coalition attorney, Harsimran Kaur, wrote in an e-mail.

Incidents like Pujji's have increased in the Chicago area since 9/11, said Schaumburg resident Davinder Singh, 27, who is Sikh.

"Because of the turban, Sikhs are seen as Arabs," he said.

Singh, who was also born in the United States, was turned away from a Downer's Grove bar two years ago when a bouncer asked that he remove his turban. The bar has since closed.

"I was a club deejay for a while," he said. "I have never had problems when I had to go in to do a job, but when I went in as a paying customer, issues sprout up."

The incidents are also increasing as more first generation Sikhs like Pujji and Singh try to do mainstream things like go to bars, Singh said.

"The issue isn't the country, the issue isn't the government," he said. "It all goes back to lack of knowledge." [Link]

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