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After being ushered off a Berkeley ice rink twice while preparing for the Gay Games competition this summer, two male figure skaters concluded they were the target of homophobic discrimination and promptly sued. The gay rights group championing the skaters’ cause says homophobia exists even in uber-liberal Berkeley, a city that prides itself for being inclusive and a trend-setter in political correctness. The defendant’s lawyer, a gay man himself, says he wouldn’t represent a biased client. The skaters, Alan Lessik and John Manzon-Santos, are represented by San Francisco’s National Center for Lesbian Rights, a nonprofit law firm that focuses on impact litigation to advance policy goals on hot-button social issues like same-sex marriage and transgender rights. But Berkeley Iceland’s lawyer, Douglas Melton, says this litigation’s impact would harm an innocent business. The case is scheduled for a mediation hearing with Judge Fern Smith on Tuesday. A venerable Bay Area institution that opened in the 1930s, Berkeley Iceland has a nondiscrimination policy and openly gay employees, Melton said. The rink even once employed a transgender skater who was represented by NCLR in a bid to skate competitively as a man. “I wouldn’t have Berkeley Iceland as clients if they were raging homophobes,” said Melton, a partner at Long & Levit. “Even if they were mild homophobes.” The discrimination charge stems from two incidents involving Monte Tiedemann, a Berkeley Iceland manager and a named defendant in the suit. The skaters also filed complaints with the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing. Practicing hand-in-hand, Lessik and Manzon-Santos were tossed from the rink during two skating sessions as straight couples were permitted to continue skating in tandem, according to the Alameda County Superior Court complaint. Melton said the skaters were booted because their maneuvers posed “a safety issue” for others. NCLR legal director Shannon Minter said that’s simply a pretext for discrimination. Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati’s Fred Alvarez, Amy Todd and Tamara Fisher assisted Minter with the complaint, which was filed on Apr. 7. The suit claims Berkeley Iceland denied the pairs skaters “full and equal enjoyment” of its facilities because of their sexual orientation, citing a local anti-discrimination law the California Supreme Court upheld in March in Evans v. City of Berkeley (06 CDOS 2054). Though the issues raised in the Berkeley Iceland case are different from Evans, the 28-year-old municipal code [SECTION SYMBOL] 13.28 “would prohibit discrimination at the Berkeley ice rink based on sexual orientation,” said Matthew Orebic, a deputy city attorney in Berkeley. As portrayed in the formal complaint, the dispute represents a straightforward civil rights violation “carried out in a deliberate, cold, callous, intentional and/or unreasonable manner � and done with the intent to vex, injure and annoy [Lessik and Manzon-Santos] so as to constitute oppression, fraud or malice.” “Our clients were the only same-sex couple, and he singled them out twice,” said Minter, noting that Tiedemann’s demeanor was “hostile and belligerent.” “That’s the classic discriminatory case of differential treatment.” Damages have not yet been specified. But Melton said after witnessing a severe laceration during a skating session at Berkeley Iceland years ago, Tiedemann is “highly sensitized to safety issues.” Melton said he ruled out the notion that his client could be homophobic during a meeting when Tiedemann took his arms and whirled him around an office room to demonstrate why he considered Lessik and Manzon-Santos’ skating maneuvers to be dangerous. “It would be laughable if it weren’t in the context of this very serious litigation,” he said, noting that there’s “a remarkable absence” of evidence about derogatory comments or epithets voiced by Tiedemann. Minter said his clients are open to a settlement with Tiedemann and Berkeley Iceland. But he dismissed the company’s inclusive employment policies as evidence that Lessik and Manzon-Santos were not subjected to discrimination. “There are a lot of gay people in ice skating. And there is a lot of homophobia in ice skating,” Minter said. In the weeks since the NCLR suit was filed, Melton said it has already affected Berkeley Iceland by lowering employee and management morale. “It’s been a bit of an eye-opener to see the impact on a small, independent business when it’s the subject of a lawsuit with the power of NCLR and Wilson Sonsini behind it,” he said.

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