Jimmie Flowers, former general manager of downtown Charleston’s Mynt nightclub on Calhoun Street, has resigned due to what he calls racist policies he claims the owner forced him to uphold.
Among those policies are enforcing a dress code that targets Black fashion, maintaining a specific ratio of White-to-Black people on the dance floor, not offering specific drinks at the bar that Black people often order and asking DJs to not play rap music.
Flowers, who is Black, worked at Mynt for more than five years. On July 7, he posted to Facebook and Instagram the reasons why he left. Those posts drew hundreds of comments from social media users. Some of those users called for a boycott of Mynt, and others expressed appreciation that someone is speaking out on issues they said have been impacting the Charleston nightclub scene for years.
Flowers posted a screenshot of the texts that Neil Lykins, Mynt’s owner, sent him on May 10, prompting him to quit.
“Obviously with all this violence going on probably couldn’t be a better time to implement the dress code,” Lykins’ text reads. “What is the dress code to keep riff raff out?”
When Flowers responded that changing the dress code would essentially eliminate the Black crowd at the club, Lykins replied by texting that the club should “start slow” by banning jerseys, tank tops, plain red and blue T-shirts and bandannas. “Frat guy walks up in a blue shirt, you aren’t gonna turn him away,” Flowers replied in a text.
Lykins did not respond to The Post and Courier’s multiple attempts to reach out in person, by phone, email and social media. The door wasn’t answered when the newspaper visited the club in person on July 9 before opening, and Lykins was not present when the newspaper visited during operating hours. Lykins did not respond to knocks at his residence or a note left at his front door.
Dress codes and federal law
In 2018, The Post and Courier reported that Charleston’s Deco club drew fire for similar accusations, receiving nearly 200 one-star ratings online alleging racist dress code and door policies. Memberships and dress codes have been used by private clubs over the years in South Carolina as a way to control clientele.
Charleston attorney Brett Ehman said private clubs that require a membership, which Mynt does not, may be legally allowed to discriminate based on gender, race and other bases because they are generally not subject to federal anti-discrimination laws.
But private businesses that are places of public accommodation, such as restaurants, movie theaters and dance clubs, are subject to federal laws that seek to prevent discrimination, namely the Civil Rights Act of 1964, he said. City-level anti-discrimination laws are not in place.
“A restaurant cannot refuse to serve someone based on that person’s race,” Ehman said. “Moreover, whether certain policies instituted by that restaurant have a discriminatory effect and constitute some type of actionable discrimination, especially if those policies are not applied uniformly, would have to be reviewed and determined on a case-by-case basis.”
There have been numerous claims made that restaurant or club dress codes were discriminatory and violate federal anti-discrimination laws, he said.
One of Baltimore’s largest restaurant groups faced a federal discrimination lawsuit last year from a Black woman who said she and her son were barred from one of the company’s restaurants on account of their race. Her son was turned away for wearing athletic shorts, a clothing item not allowed via the group’s dress code. The woman then pointed out a White child wearing similar clothing and seated at a table.
The manager involved was later fired, and the company has since abolished a dress code for children and scaled it back at other restaurants in the city. Maryland Sen. Jill Carter made the case for a boycott of all the company’s eateries in town until they went out of business.
A Portland nightclub discrimination case was settled in 2019, in which the club had to scrap the dress code, allegedly used to discriminate against Black patrons. In court documents, numerous former employees of the club said the owner of the club would explicitly limit the number of Black patrons, which was denied by the owner.
Resigning over policies
Mynt’s Lykins replied to Flowers in a text that he would be fair to all patrons across the board when it came to dress code. Then, he wrote that after eight years in the business he believed changing the dress code and music would help dictate a “better mix” of people in the club.
“Jimmie, you know I’m the least racist person there is,” Lykins’ text reads. “But I will tell you the Saturday I was there and when I checked cameras this past Saturday we were 70% black. Google just told me Charleston is 26% black as a city. Our crowd should loosely reflect the city’s population. And I’m fine if it’s 40 or 50%.”
Flowers told Lykins that sales have been good for months the way the club has been operating, prompting him to reflect in a text on why he wants to make a change.
“I’m just being proactive before we have a problem,” Lykins texted.
Flowers said he almost decided to stay at the club because of the good money he made, but his moral compass wouldn’t allow him to do so any longer. After two in-person conversations with Lykins, in which he said Lykins continued to defend his policies, Flowers resigned and pursued legal counsel. Flowers told The Post and Courier in a phone interview his lawyers had been in contact with Lykins’ lawyers.
According to Ehman, someone in Flowers position may potentially have a case of wrongful termination or retaliation if they were able to prove constructive discharge, in which an employer makes an employee’s working conditions so intolerable that the employee is forced to resign.
“If an employer terminates an employee’s employment for refusing to do something illegal, that would likely constitute wrongful termination,” Ehman said.
Reach Kalyn Oyer at 843-371-4469. Follow her on Twitter @sound_wavves.