Signs of the Times: Lakewood Lawsuit

Signs of the Times: Lakewood Lawsuit

LAKEWOOD, OH (WOIO) - A new Detroit Avenue business is suing the city of Lakewood, claiming unfair enforcement of the law and alleging the city's building inspector made racist remarks.

The city attorney says they're shocked by the nature of the allegations against their reputable building inspector.  But the resale shop says they employ minorities, and they were targeted because of it.  The owners of Just 4 Girlz were cited by the city of Lakewood for having too many signs in the front window.  Their attorney says they were singled out.

"Had he been cited fairly, had there been an enforcement effort along the street, it would have been fine.  It appears to be subjective enforcement," said the store's attorney, Don Harris.

19 Action News did find several neighboring storefronts which appear to have more signage than the allowed 15 percent of window space.  City Attorney Kevin Butler says they went to Just 4 Girlz because of an anonymous complaint.  But the lawsuit claims building inspector Kevin Kelley told the owner, "...the community prefers light-skinned employees..." and that "...hiring dark-skinned minorities would not be good for business."

"It's patently false.  The entire complaint is a work of fiction," says Butler.

Butler says the city plans to vigorously defend Kelley, who's never had any other complaints against him.  He says this is a lawsuit filed by a known liar.

Our research found store owner Steve Kessler does in fact have convictions for insurance fraud and identity theft.

"It's going to cost the citizens and that's just a shame. And it takes us away from obligations we have to other businesses, other residents and our day-to-day tasks.  It's just a waste of time," said Butler.

The city will most likely hire outside counsel to fight the suit.  Kessler and his wife, who is a minority, are seeking punitive damages.

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