Hotel Discrimination: A (Sadly) Familiar Story
One morning, at a hotel in Clearwater, Florida, a guest went downstairs to the lobby to get coffee and breakfast. As many guests are, she was dressed casually in sweatpants and a t-shirt. The young (and white) assistant manager approached her as she was pouring her coffee and said, “Do you belong here?”. The guest was confused. She responded, “What do you mean?”. The assistant manager then launched into a tirade about black people (using the n-word) coming in off the street, trespassing, and stealing food. The guest – who was black – was shocked and stood there speechless. The assistant manager took this as confirmation that she was, indeed, trespassing and put his hand on her shoulder to begin pushing her toward the exit. He continued with his tirade, “You and all your [black] friends need to stay the hell out. This is private property.” The guest protested that she was, in fact, a guest of the hotel. She began frantically searching for her key, but, unfortunately, had left it behind in her hotel room along with her wallet. At this point, the assistant manager threatened to call the police if she did not leave the property. Not knowing what else to do, the guest exited through the front door. But she used her cell phone to call her husband who was still in their hotel room sleeping. A few moments later, the husband came downstairs with the room key, his ID, his wife’s ID, and a copy of their booking confirmation and receipt. He confronted the assistant manager whose response was essentially that lots of black people had been trespassing lately. So it was all just one big misunderstanding.
The couple had two days remaining on their stay, but were no longer comfortable staying at that hotel. They quickly packed their things and left. The hotel refused to refund their money for the remaining nights.
Pollard PLLC & Hotel Discrimination Cases
Although this shocking story might seem like something from the 1950s, it is from the present day. And it is only one of several horrendous examples of hotel discrimination that Florida lawyer Jonathan Pollard can pull from his case files.
“The first time our firm got a call about a hotel discrimination case was nearly 10 years ago. I reviewed an intake message from my staff. Apparently, some guests had been kicked out of a hotel in North Florida supposedly for trespassing. The hotel owner had called the police and had a black family removed from the property. Basically, for whatever reason, he decided he didn’t like them. He even point blank said “I don’t like your kind”. And he insisted that they were causing a disturbance and trespassing. They were most certainly not. The mother was a minister for goodness sake. It was absurd.” Pollard filed a lawsuit against the hotel owner and parent company in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida (where the family was from). After beating the Defendants’ motion for summary judgment, the case settled on confidential terms.
Pollard never expected to see another case like that. But he was quickly proven wrong. “It’s not the type of case we see all the time. But it seems like once or twice a year, we get a call on some truly egregious hotel discrimination case. The fact that we beat summary judgment in one of these cases and have one of the leading court decisions out there in this space has been very helpful it terms of settlement. It’s also a different environment today that it was even 9 or 10 years ago. Today, most big hotel chains would be terrified of a case like this and prefer to settle out of court.”
Hotel Discrimination: Knowing Your Rights
- It is illegal for a hotel to discriminate against any guest on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or disability. According to Pollard, the most common type of hotel discrimination he sees is racial discrimination, followed by religious. To quote Pollard, “There are a number of significant hotel discrimination cases involving religious discrimination. There was a disgusting incident in Santa Monica, California where some Jewish guests where discriminated against and harassed for their religion. The case went to a jury trial and the hotel owner got hit with a $1.2 million verdict against him.”
- Discrimination with respect to any guest privileges is illegal. Some people assume that a hotel discrimination case only exists if the hotel denies the guest a room, or, kicks the guest out of the hotel. But that’s not true. Those cases may be the most clear cut. But if a hotel denies a guest access to certain privileges or amenities because of their, e.g., race or religion, that is unlawful discrimination. Pollard has seen multiple cases of that nature and says, “A hotel can’t accept a guest’s money but then say, ‘Sorry, but you can’t use the pool because of your race or religion. Even if they don’t say anything explicitly discriminatory, they cannot deny you access to the same services and privileges as other guests.”
- If you have experienced hotel discrimination, document everything. In the moment, it can be distressing, humiliating, and even terrifying. But once you are out of the hotel and out of the situation, sit down and document everything. Dates. Times. Names. Descriptions. Details. Everything. According to Pollard, even little and seemingly irrelevant details can play a huge role in litigation. Per Pollard, “When it comes to litigation, lots of folks lie. And big companies routinely lie. One of the best ways to win any case is to catch the other side in as many lies as possible. So when it comes to a case like this, you have no idea what details could be useful. Was the lobby Starbucks open or closed? How many guests were there? Who was behind the front desk? Was the pool packed or empty? Know your facts and keep your facts straight. Wait for the other side to lie and then hammer them for it.”
About Jonathan Pollard and Pollard PLLC
Pollard PLLC is a law firm based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and founded by attorney Jonathan Pollard. The firm litigates high stakes employment, defamation, civil rights, and personal injury cases. Pollard has appeared in or on The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Post, PBS NewsHour, NPR, Bloomberg, and more. Over the past decade, he has represented hundreds of clients in pursuing justice against corporate America. The firm represents clients throughout Florida including in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, Tampa, Orlando, Jacksonville, Ocala, Tallahassee, and beyond. Pollard PLLC can be reached at 954-332-2380.