A gay couple who owns a restaurant and bar in a small Wyoming town three hours north of Salt Lake filed a federal lawsuit against their mayor and city council saying they were treated differently than other business owners because of their sexuality.
Marc and Rusty Andrus bought a property that had been on the market for eight years on Main Street in Thayne, Wyoming, population 366. In the past two years, they remodeled the restaurant, bringing it up to code as a family restaurant for residents and visitors of Star Valley.
The couple, who lived in Utah before marrying in Palm Springs, Calif., in December 2013, remodeled the building with a cowboy flair to open Rustler’s Restaurant and Saloon. When they applied for a bar and grill license through the town of Thayne to serve alcohol, all hell seemed to break loose.
In the two years since they bought the space, they say the town mayor and city council, and some residents gave them more trouble than other restaurant owners. Their lawsuit says they were discriminated against because they’re gay, violating their due process rights.
In early 2016, the couple went to a special town council meeting in hopes of receiving an alcohol license. It was there they realized things were different for them than other business owners.
The couple had previously been required to have a certain number of off-street parking spaces and proof that all food and drink servers were TIPS certified, showing they knew how to serve alcohol and recognize when a person had over-imbibed. Other similar businesses in the town didn’t have to comply with either of these regulations.
“Plaintiffs were subjected to verbal accusations and hostility from multiple members of the Town Council. Defendant Council Members Joe Heward and Lorell Woolley repeatedly and very publicly accused Plaintiffs of being deceitful without any basis for such accusations whatsoever,” the suit reads.
The suit also says the citizens who attended the meeting made “hostile gay slurs” about the Andruses.
At the meeting, Mayor DeLand Lainhart said that the town would collect sales tax receipts monthly and threatened to close the bar if they found an inappropriate food-to-alcohol sales ratio. Wyoming law states businesses with such licenses are to be audited yearly to ensure receipts were in order.
Lainhart also threatened to enter the restaurant regularly to make sure the grill was on; if not he would shut the business down. He also ordered the couple to build a fence around the parking lot, though there was no town regulation requiring it.
Lainhart and the town council threatened that the restaurant and grill license would cost $10,500, though ordinances set the fee at $1,500.
Ultimately, the town gave the couple the alcohol license, and later the mayor told them the local Mormon leader had approved of giving it to them. When they asked why that mattered, the mayor allegedly said, the leader “represented the people of Thayne.”
In the year that followed, the Andruses said that random drunkards who walked into the restaurant from nearby bars subjected them to homophobic abuse and the town did nothing to stop it. Drunk patrons leaving those bars twice drove through their fence. They also say the town didn’t enforce parking ordinances equally as with other similar businesses.
The Andruses also accused the town of not listing them on the official website like other restaurants. However, after filing the suit, the restaurant is now included on the site.
The suit goes into painstaking detail on many provisions other bars in the town violate, including admitting under-aged people, patrons leaving with open containers, and over-serving, that have gone unaddressed even when it was clear that Rustler’s would be “closed down” over minor infractions.
When the Andruses addressed the town council about being singled out for infractions and spelled out several against the bar next door, the mayor said, “We try hard to treat everyone the same,” and the town doesn’t favor any businesses. “We want everyone to live by the same rules and not single anyone out,” he said.
The town, however, did single Rustler’s out by doubling the fee for renewing its restaurant and grill alcohol license.
The Andruses closed Rustler’s for Winter, and plan to reopen in April.
Lainhart and members of the town council will not comment on the lawsuit, and the Andruses have not discussed it with the press.