A state Court of Appeals judge has ruled that the former owner of Here Lounge and one of its employees must pay $5.4 million to a woman who claims she was sexually assaulted in the gay bar’s unisex restroom in 2009. Judge Amy Hogue’s decision came in Here’s appeal of a decision in 2014 that found the bar negligent because its regular security staffers weren’t present in the unisex restroom.
The woman, Janice H., who was a news program producer, said she had entered Here’s unisex restroom and went into a stall. Normally security guards were present who prevented more than one person from entering one of the restroom’s six stalls. But Janice H. told the jury in her 2014 trial that the security guards were not present the night she was there.
She said she did not latch the door to the stall. Then suddenly it was pushed open by Victor Cruz, a busboy at Here. Janice H. said Cruz forced her to have oral and vaginal sex and ejaculated on her dress. DNA from the semen matched a sample from Cruz.
Judge Hogue also found Here negligent for hiring Cruz. Here’s manager, Jude Tade previously had fired Cruz’ brother Mario at Fiesta Cantina for having sex with a woman in the restroom. But he then hired Mario and Victor Cruz at Here. “The jury could reasonably infer that Victor knew why his brother was terminated at Fiesta Cantina, and that Victor had reason to view Mario’s rehiring as condoning such conduct,” Judge Hogue said in her decision.
Hogue also said the $5.4 million award was not excessive given Janice H.’s injuries. “The examining nurse, who had conducted over 1,000 rape exams, testified that Plaintiff’s hymen was significantly torn by the ‘violent’ penetration, and calibrated the severity of her injury as an eight on a scale of one to ten,” Hogue wrote. The jury in the 2014 trial had assessed Here with 40% of the damages and Cruz with 60%.
Pat Rogers, who owned Here Lounge at the time the rape occurred, said he was disappointed in the decision and would consult his lawyer regarding next steps. Rogers said he expected Here’s portion of the award would be covered by its insurance policy.
Rogers sold Here earlier this year to David Cooley, owner of The Abbey. Cooley currently is combining the two bars and converting Here into a space called The Chapel.