The owner of the Union Bar in Iowa City on Monday denounced any discrimination that may have occurred there amid plans by a group of University of Iowa students to protest at the bar.
Union owner George Wittgraf said he wants to apologize to UI student Jordan Ramos, who says she was discriminated against by bar staff because of her size.
“If something was said to Miss Ramos, I am truly sorry. I would like to apologize for that,” Wittgraf said.
Wittgraf said he met with employees over the weekend to discuss the matter and that it “has never been our policy” to prohibit people from certain areas of the bar based on their size or appearance.
“We’re trying to figure this out,” Wittgraf said. “Nobody would admit to it, obviously. ... But we had a big meeting to make sure that we’re not disrespectful. We can’t be mean to people. It’s bad business.”
Ramos said Monday she has heard from employees at the bar who said they are now allowing anyone to dance on the platform.
However, Ramos said she’ll keep speaking out until she hears the report confirmed by a manager or in writing.
“It’s a step in the right direction, but I don’t know if I can believe that,” she said. “They should publicly apologize to every single person they’ve done this to and admit that they do discriminate. ... I want it in writing, that every paying customer will be allowed in this establishment and allowed up on the platform and on the dance floor.”
The protest is scheduled to start at 9 p.m. Friday outside the Union Bar.
Ramos acknowledged that although the business may not be acting illegally, all customers should be accepted regardless of their appearance.
“I’m not condoning obesity. That was never my intention,” Ramos said. “I just want equal rights for everybody. I don’t think anybody’s size should impact the way they are treated.”
Austin Fall, 24, of Coralville, said he witnessed the discrimination firsthand when he worked as a bouncer at the bar two-and-a-half years ago.
Fall said he only worked at the bar for about a month before leaving because of a payroll dispute.
However, during his short time there, Fall said he was told by owners to “keep the fat and ugly girls away from the stage, the (platform), and especially the DJ.”
Others who worked there told Fall, “We usually let girls dance on the bar if they’re skinny, but if they’re fat, we just don’t want that image,” he said.
He estimated that over the course of one month, he said he probably told about 20 “heavy-set” girls that they couldn’t dance on the platform or the bar.
“I’m ashamed of it, and I’ll admit to the public that I did it,” he said. “I’m not excusing the discriminative protocol. I want people to know what really goes on there.”
Fall also said employees were encouraged to watch black patrons more closely, and that men were not allowed to dance on the platform.
Ramos said she’s not taking legal action, as some stories have implied, but she would like to start a conversation about issues surrounding size discrimination.
“It is just about awareness and advocating to be treated the same way as everybody else,” she said. “There’s a deeper message that discrimination is still here. I think we should be getting people to talk about size discrimination and working toward acceptance.”