Court Declines to Review Ruling Allowing Racial Bias Suit
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday declined to rehear its ruling that the owner of the Westin Los Angeles Airport Hotel may be sued for moving an African American fashion show out of the hotel’s Grand Ballroom in 2001 to accommodate a bar mitzvah party.
The panel that issued the December ruling— Senior U.S. District Judge Edward C. Reed of Nevada, sitting by designation; Judge Harry Pregerson; and Senior Judge William C. Canby Jr.—denied rehearing and said that none of the court’s judges had asked for a vote on hearing the case en banc.
The action means that the case can go to trial, absent intervention by the U.S. Supreme Court.
In its December ruling, the panel—overturning a contrary decision by U.S. District Judge Gary A. Feess of the Central District of California—said the fashion show’s promoter, E-Jays Panache Images, demonstrated a prima facie case of discrimination.
E-Jay’s attorney expressed relief at the ruling.
“People aren’t running around in white robes anymore, but racism is alive and well,” Felipa Richland told The Associated Press. “People are very careful in how they undertake discriminatory acts.”
The company’s owner, Eric J. Lindsey, said that he held several shows in the ballroom before 2001, drawing more than the minimum projected 300 guests each time. He acknowledged that after the 1998 show, he was not guaranteed a specific space, in accordance with what the hotel said was its policy, but said he understood the ballroom to be the only room in the hotel that could accommodate banquet seating for 300 guests.
Lindsey said his workers arrived at the hotel on Saturday night, May 12, to set up for the event the next day and found the bar mitzvah party being set up in the ballroom. When the hotel’s food and beverage director, Jacob Stark, was called about the conflict, he ordered a halt to the setup and said he would come in at 5 a.m. Sunday to resolve the problem, Lindsey declared.
Stark allegedly came in the next morning, told an E-Jay’s representative that the bar mitzvah party was entitled to use the ballroom based on the contracts that had been signed and the fact that the party “was basically set up in the ballroom already.”
Stark met with company representatives later in the day and allegedly told them they had three choices—move to another Starwood hotel; split the event into a luncheon in the lobby and coffee shop and a fashion show set up theater-style in a smaller room, which they eventually agreed to do; or hold the whole event in the lobby. There would have been no assistance in redirecting guests to another hotel, and no consideration of moving the bar mitzvah, even though it could have been held in the smaller room that was offered for the fashion show, Lindsey said.
The company’s representatives said they had a “gut feeling” they were denied the Grand Ballroom because they were black.
Reed said the plaintiff “offered clear evidence that a similarly situated group of a different protected class was offered the contractual services which were denied to Panache,” and was entitled to a trial on its claim under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1981, which guarantees all persons the right to enter into and enforce contracts on the same terms as white citizens.
Reed rejected the district judge’s conclusion that no contract for the Grand Ballroom existed between the hotel and E-Jay’s Panache. The appellate jurist noted that the contract clearly called for space for a minimum of 300 persons, meaning that no other space could have been intended.
In an addition to the original opinion yesterday, Reed explained that direct evidence of discriminatory intent is not required to state a prima facie case under Sec. 1981; it was sufficient that the plaintiff presented “specific and substantial evidence that non-African-Americans were treated differently from African-Americans.”
The case is Lindsey v. SLT Los Angeles, LLC, 03-55824.
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company