A recently filed case involving allegations of hotel discrimination against an African-American family in Clearwater, Florida.
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF FLORIDA
|GWENDOLYN WEST, MARLA SPENCE, & VINCENT SPENCEPlaintiffs
LQ MANAGEMENT, LLC; LA QUNITA FRANCHISING, LLC; DEV HOSPITALITY, INC & MUKUND PATEL
Plaintiffs Gwendolyn West, Marla Spence and Vincent Spence file this Complaint against La Quinta Franchising, LLC.; LQ Management, LLC; DEV Hospitality, Inc.; and Mukund Patel and in support state as follows:
The Plaintiffs are an African-American family from Miami-Dade County, Florida. Marla Spence is the reigning Miss South Florida. The family traveled to Clearwater, Florida to attend an event related to the Miss Florida pageant. Prior to arriving in Clearwater, the Spence family made reservations at a La Quinta hotel. Shortly after checking into the hotel, while still in the lobby, the hotel’s owner, Mr. Patel, ordered the family to leave the hotel because he did not like “their kind.” Ultimately, Mr. Patel called the police and reported the family for trespassing. Upon arrival, the police informed the family that the hotel had a right to refuse service to anyone, issued the family a warning for trespassing and ordered them to leave the premises. This is an action for discrimination in violation of the 42 U.S.C. 1981.
- Plaintiff Gwendolyn West is a resident of Miami-Dade, Florida. Ms. West holds a Bachelor’s degree from St. Thomas University, a Master’s degree in Pastoral Studies from St. Thomas University and a Doctor of Ministry degree from Barry University. She is an adjunct professor at City College.
- Plaintiff Marla Spence is a resident of Miami- County, Florida. Ms. Spence holds a Bachelor’s degree from Barry University where she studied Broadcasting. Ms. Spence is the reigning Ms. South Florida.
- Plaintiff Vincent Spence is a resident of Miami-Dade County, Florida. Mr. Spence is employed as an editor/cinematographer and is also a student at Broward College.
- Defendant LQ Management, LLC is a limited liability company with its headquarters located at 909 Hidden Ridge, Suite 600, Irving, Texas 75038. LQ Management bills itself as one of the largest owner/operators of limited-service hotels in the United States. LQ Management operates and provides franchise services to more than 800 hotels in the US, Canada and Mexico under the La Quinta brand.
- Defendant La Quinta Franchising, LLC is a limited liability company with its headquarters located at 909 Hidden Ridge, Suite 600, Irving, Texas 75038. On information at belief, La Quinta Franchising is the franchisor of La Quinta brand hotels.
- Defendant DEV Hospitality, Inc. is a Florida corporation with its principal place of business located at 5000 Lake Blvd., Clearwater, Florida 33762. On information and belief, Dev Hospitality, Inc. is the franchisee of the La Quinta hotel at issue.
- Defendant Mukund Patel is an individual residing at 9241 Silverthorn Road, Largo, Florida 33777. On information and belief, Patel is the principal of Dev Hospitality, Inc. Patel holds himself as the owner of the La Quinta hotel.
RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE DEFENDANTS
- La Quinta is the brand name for a chain of hotels located throughout North America. The La Quinta brand is owned and ultimately controlled by LQ Management, LLC.
- On information and belief, LQ Management, LLC, La Quinta Franchising, LLC and other La Quinta corporate entities are alter egos.
- Although there are numerous corporate entities under the La Quinta banner, La Quinta’s marketing and advertising does not differentiate between those different corporate entities.
- Instead, La Quinta presents itself to the world as one unified brand: La Quinta.
- The La Quinta website – www.lq.com – makes no distinction between the various La Quinta entities.
- Instead, the La Quinta website simply brands itself as La Quinta or La Quinta Inns and Suites and invites prospective guests to “find a La Quinta” near their travel destination.
- The particular hotel at issue is listed on the La Quinta website as La Quinta Inns & Suites Clearwater South. The hotel is held out to the public as a La Quinta hotel.
- Likewise, La Quinta’s advertisements portray La Quinta as a unified brand.
- La Quinta maintains a Youtube channel at https://www.youtube.com/user/laquinta under the name La Quinta. The advertisements available on that channel all reference La Quinta or La Quinta Inns and Suites. They do not mention various affiliated corporate entities or franchises.
- La Quinta runs advertisements on popular social media websites such as Facebook, which contain the tag line “La Quinta’s Bright Side”, direct prospective guests to the www.lq.com website and encourage prospective guests to “[b]ook LQ now.”
- In short, La Quinta holds itself out to the public as one entity: La Quinta.
- La Quinta holds out the hotels in its family – including the hotel at issue – as La Quinta hotels.
- Defendants LQ Management, La Quinta Franchising and other La Quinta entities exert extensive control over the activities of Defendants DEV Hospitality and Patel.
- For instance, on information and belief, before opening a La Quinta franchise, the franchisee’s manager, front office personnel and certain other designated personnel are required to attend and successfully complete extensive training that includes classroom training, on-side training, company history, company values, corporate and operating guiding principles, compliance, marketing guest satisfaction, quality assurance and other topics.
- The franchisee (or, if applicable, an operating partner) must actively participate in the management and supervision of the hotel. The franchisee’s facility must at all times be under the franchisee’s direct, on-premises supervision or the direct on-premises supervision of a general manager who has completed the required training programs to the franchisor’s satisfaction.
- The franchised hotels must offer all products and services, including guest service programs, products the franchisor sells or endorses, customer loyalty programs, frequent traveler programs, and other programs and activities as the franchisor deems appropriate.
- Defendants DEV Hospitality, Inc. and Patel – the owners of the hotel at issue – are agents or apparent agents of La Quinta in its various corporate forms, including LQ Management, LLC, La Quinta Franchising, LLC and other La Quinta entities.
- As a result of these and similar efforts by various La Quinta entities, Plaintiffs, in dealing with the specific hotel at issue, believed that they were dealing with La Quinta, a reputable, established national hotel chain that offered nice rooms at a good value and that would welcome them as guests.
JURISDICTION & VENUE
- This Court has federal question jurisdiction over the claims at issue pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331
- Venue is proper in this district pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b) because Plaintiffs reside in this district, Defendants conduct business in this district and with people who reside in this district, Defendants conducted business with Plaintiffs while Plaintiffs were located in this district and Defendants are subject to personal jurisdiction in this district.
- On April 26, 2014, the Spence family traveled to Pinellas County, Florida to attend meetings for the Miss Florida pageant and for the Miss Florida’s Outstanding Teen 2014 orientation. The meetings were to be held at the St. Petersburg Marriott Clearwater. The family made reservations to stay at a La Quinta hotel nearby.
- Prior to arriving at the hotel, Ms. Spence contacted the hotel to confirm that there was a business center that she could use to finish an application related to the Miss Florida competition. The hotel confirmed that it had a business center Ms. Spence could use.
- Upon arrival at the hotel, the family entered the lobby and went to the front desk. The family indicated that they had a reservation and were checking in.
- The front desk clerk explained that their room was not yet ready but would be ready shortly.
- Ms. West asked if there was a room where Ms. Spence could change outfits to prepare for her Miss Florida meeting.
- The desk clerk indicated that Ms. Spence could use a conference room.
- Ms. Spence asked if she could use the business center to finalize and print some documents she needed for a meeting that afternoon. The clerk gave Ms. Spence permission to use the business center and pointed her in that direction.
- Ms. Spence and Mr. Spence entered the business center. Ms. Spence accessed one of the hotel’s computers and began working on the documents.
- Mr. Spence had brought his own laptop with him. He opened his laptop and began working on an assignment for one of his classes at Broward College.
- Ms. West went back to the car to get the family’s luggage, including Ms. Spence’s wardrobe of different outfits for that day’s events.
- Ms. West stopped by the desk and asked the desk clerk if she could provide directions to the nearest Wells Fargo bank. While the desk clerk was looking up this information, a member of the housekeeping staff approached and said that their room was available.
- The front desk clerk then proceeded to check the family in. The front desk clerk processed a credit card payment for the room and handed Ms. West the room keys.
- Ms. West then asked for a luggage cart to use in retrieving the bags from the car. While waiting for the front desk to locate a luggage cart, a man approached the front desk and had a brief, inaudible exchange with the front desk clerk. This man was Mukund Patel.
- Mr. Patel abruptly walked away from the front desk and headed in the direction of the business center.
- While still standing at the front desk, Ms. West overheard the man’s voice coming from the direction of the business center. He was speaking in a loud, hostile manner.
- Ms. West walked down the hall and entered the business center. Her children were seated in the business center. Mr. Patel was standing over Mr. and Ms. Spence and screaming.
- When Ms. West entered the room, she asked what the problem was.
- Mr. Patel yelled that they did not belong in the business center and that Mr. Spence was playing games on the hotel computer instead of doing business.
- Ms. West asked Mr. Patel if he worked at the hotel. He said yes.
- Ms. West then indicated that her son was using his own computer, that her daughter was using the hotel computer to print some documents and that they had permission to be in the business center.
- Mr. Patel then yelled at the entire family, saying that they were trespassing and that they had to leave immediately.
- Ms. West explained that they were guests of the hotel, that they had already checked in and gotten their keys and that they were just waiting for a luggage cart.
- Mr. Patel then stated that they were not checked into his hotel because he did not want their kind of people in his hotel.
- Ms. West pleaded with Mr. Patel, saying that the front desk attendant would confirm that they were guests of the hotel and that she had already checked them in.
- Mr. Patel then walked to the front desk and asked the clerk why did she check these kind of people into his hotel. He then turned back to the family and demanded they leave.
- Ms. West again stated that they had checked in and paid for their rooms.
- Mr. Patel again demanded she leave. Ms. West reiterated that they were guests and were not leaving.
- At this point, Mr. Patel said, “Ok, stand there and we’ll see.”
- Unsure of what Mr. Patel intended and afraid for the safety of her family, Ms. West called 911 and asked for the police. Her and her family stayed in the business center, waiting for the police to arrive.
- Over the next several minutes, Mr. Patel paced back and forth in the lobby screaming at the family to leave and yelling that he did not want these kind of people in his hotel.
- When the police arrived shortly thereafter, they entered the hotel and asked what happened. Ms. West explained the foregoing events. An irate Mr. Patel persisted that they were trespassers and that he wanted them out of the hotel.
- At some point, the police took Ms. West’s identification and made her and her family wait outside.
- After waiting outside for approximately half an hour, the police went outside and approached the family.
- Ms. West explained that they were guests that they had checked in and paid for their room. And that the owner abruptly became hostile and started making racial remarks about not wanting their kind of people in his hotel. Ms. West showed all three police officers her hotel keys.
- A police officer then stated that the hotel owner had a right to refuse anyone. That officer then wrote Ms. West a warning for trespassing and ordered her and her family to leave the premises.
- The family left with Ms. West upset and embarrassed Ms. Spence in tears and Mr. Spence in shock.
- It took more than a week for La Quinta to issue the family a refund.
UNLAWFUL DISCRIMINATION IN VIOLATION OF 42 USC 1981
Plaintiffs repeat and re-alleged the foregoing as if fully set forth herein.
- In offering rooms for rent, Defendants extended to Plaintiffs an offer to accept a contract.
- Plaintiffs accepted that offer and paid for their hotel room using a credit card.
- Upon deciding that they did not want an African-American family staying their hotel, Defendants refused to honor their contract with Plaintiffs.
- By discriminating against Plaintiffs on the basis of their race, Defendants have denied Plaintiffs the same right to enjoy the benefits, privileges, terms, and conditions of contract as is, and was, enjoyed by non-black citizens, inviolation of Plaintiffs’ rights under the Civil Rights Act of 1866, 42 U.S.C. § 1981.
- As a result of Defendants’ conduct, Plaintiffs have been damaged in an amount to be determined at trial.
PRAYER FOR RELIEF
WHEREFORE, Plaintiffs respectfully praythat the Court grant the following relief:
(1)Award compensatory damages to Plaintiffs in an amount to be determined by a jury that would fully compensate Plaintiffs for economic loss, humiliation, embarrassment and emotional distress;
(3)Award punitive damages to Plaintiffs in an amount to be determined by the jury that would punish Defendant for the conduct alleged herein and that would effectively detersimilar conduct in the future;
(4)Award Plaintiffs their reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1981
(5)Order such other relief as this Court deems just and equitable.
JURY TRIAL DEMAND
Plaintiffs demand a jury trial on all issues so triable.
Date: August 21, 2014 Respectfullysubmitted,
By: s/ Jonathan Pollard
Jonathan E. Pollard
Florida Bar No. 83613
Nathan M. Saunders
Florida Bar No. 107753
Jonathan Pollard, LLC
401 E. Las Olas Blvd. #1400
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301
Attorneys for Plaintiffs