Pasadena Republican Club Files Federal Discrimination Lawsuit Against the City, Western Justice Center

Published : Thursday, November 29, 2018 | 5:41 AM

[UPDATED] The Pasadena Republican Club is suing the Pasadena Western Justice Center and the City of Pasadena, alleging discrimination based on political and religious viewpoints.

The litigation stems from a planned meeting the Pasadena Republican Club booked in February of last year at the city-owned Maxwell House that was canceled less than three hours before it was scheduled to begin, according to a complaint filed Wednesday in the United States District Court Central District of California.

The Pasadena Western Justice Center operated the building “for public purposes,” said attorney Anthony Caso of the Claremont Institute’s Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence, who is representing the Pasadena Republican Club in the lawsuit. Caso is also a professor at Chapman University.

“Basically, this is a Constitutional claim. When public property is involved, you cannot decide who can and cannot use the property based on their political viewpoints,” he said.

The Western Justice Center often rents out the Maxwell House to political groups, the lawsuit states. But when the WJC’s then-executive director, retired L.A. Superior Court Judge Judith Chirlin, learned the planned speaker at the Republican Club’s meeting was John Eastman of the National Organization for Marriage, she canceled the rental, according to the claim.

An email allegedly authored by Chirlin stated that National Organization for Marriage’s positions were “antithetical” to those of the Western Justice Center, and that the meeting was to be canceled, according to the lawsuit.

“The speaker, who is Dr. John Eastman, was also the chairman of the National Organization for Marriage, which is a faith-based organization advocating for traditional marriage,” Caso said. “Because of that, Western Justice Center decided that, based on the viewpoints and the religious beliefs of the speaker, the Pasadena Republican Club could no longer meet in their facility.”

The lawsuit seeks an injunction to prevent the Western Justice Center or the City of Pasadena from continuing alleged discrimination, as well as punitive damages and damages due to “emotional distress.”

“Chirlin and Western Justice Center acted with malice, oppression, and wanton disregard of the law, intending to harm Pasadena Republican Club and its members for choosing a speaker who harbored beliefs contrary to those promoted by Western Justice Center,” the lawsuit states.

The Center’s Board of Directors includes prominent attorneys and judges, “who likewise are aware of the provisions of the United States Constitution and know that discrimination on the basis of political viewpoint and religious belief in the rental of public property violates the United States Constitution unless supported by a compelling governmental interest,” according to the lawsuit. “Western Justice Center’s hatred of contrary political viewpoints and religious beliefs is not a compelling governmental interest.”

Western Justice Center’s Executive Director Elissa D. Barrett, herself an attorney, issued a statement in response to questions from Pasadena Now about the lawsuit.

“When this matter arose more than 18 months ago, we believed that a fair and mutual accommodation had been reached. We have heard nothing from the plaintiff since then. We are disappointed that the plaintiff chose not to contact us before pursuing litigation, especially given the centrality of conflict resolution to our mission,” Barrett wrote.

“The Western Justice Center empowers people to resolve conflicts and to address forms of bias that often underlie those conflicts,” she added.

Caso said once the city and the Western Justice Center have been served, they have 30 days to respond, though an extension is likely due to the upcoming holiday season.

“But we would probably see some hearings in January or February,” he said.