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ACLU of Utah Contacts the Airport Hilton Hotel on Behalf of Guest Who Experienced Racial Discrimination During Her Stay

05 December 2001 Published in Legal Advocacy

ACLU of Utah Contacts the Airport Hilton Hotel on Behalf of Guest Who Experienced Racial Discrimination During Her Stay.

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ACLU Contacts Hilton Airport Hotel on Behalf of Guest Who Experienced Racial Discrimination During Her Stay

December 5, 2001

Manager
Hilton Airport Hotel
5151 Wiley Post Way
Salt Lake City, Utah

Re: Violation of Utah Code Ann. § 13-7-3

Dear Sir/Madam:

I am writing at the request and on behalf of Ms. LeDora Hankton to apprise you of a serious incident involving racial discrimination in violation of Utah’s civil rights statute, Utah Code Ann. § 13-7-3.

From June 30, 2001 through July 5, 2001, Ms. Hankton was a guest in your hotel. She was visiting Utah with her daughter and other families for a major national volleyball tournament. Ms. Hankton is African American. Throughout her stay, she was subjected to invidious discrimination in the form of unequal accommodations and services and racially derogatory epithets by one of your employees. Specifically, on June 30, 2001, Ms. Hankton went to Club 114, a restaurant/club/bar in the hotel, for a drink. The person on duty, whose first name was Tim, required Ms. Hankton to obtain a membership, even though she was a guest in the hotel. Ms. Hankton complied, assuming a membership was required of all patrons. Throughout the time she stayed in the bar area, however, she did not see Tim require any of the other patrons entering the bar, all of whom were white, to obtain a membership before entering the bar.

On July 2, 2001, Ms. Hankton again went to the restaurant/bar, this time accompanied by another hotel guest named Julie Dosch. After they were seated at a table, Tim came to take their order. Once again he asked Ms. Hankton (but not Ms. Dosch, who is white) for a membership card. Ms. Hankton politely asked Tim why he didn’t remember her, since she had been in the bar just a couple of days before. Tim launched into a tirade of patently offensive and racially derogatory remarks. Even after Ms. Hankton found and produced her temporary membership card, Tim not only continued to subject her to patently offensive and racially derogatory remarks, but also failed to provide prompt or even adequate service. Tim’s conduct understandably left Ms. Hankton feeling terribly offended and upset, to the point that she is afraid to return to Utah, let alone stay in your hotel, for the next Junior National Volleyball Competition.

Utah’s civil rights statute makes clear that conduct of the type to which Ms. Hankton was subjected during her stay in your hotel is against the public policy and the law of this state. Specifically, the law provides in pertinent part:

"It is hereby declared that the practice of discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, ancestry, or national origin in business establishments or places of public accommodation or in enterprises regulated by the state endangers the health, safety, and general welfare of this state and its inhabitants; and that such discrimination in business establishments or places of public accommodation or in enterprises regulated by the state, violates the public policy of this state.

"All persons within the jurisdiction of this state are free and equal and are entitled to full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, privileges, goods and services in all business establishments . . . without discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, ancestry, or national origin."

Utah Code Ann. §§13-7-1, -3. The statute further provides that any business establishment in which a violation of the above provisions occurs is a public nuisance, and that the operator of such an establishment can be enjoined from maintaining the public nuisance. Id. § 13-7-4. It permits a person whose rights have been violated to ask the Attorney General to “investigate and seek to conciliate” the complaint. Id. § 13-7-4(1). It also permits a civil action for damages and other appropriate remedies. Id. § 13-7-4(3).

The ACLU sincerely hopes it is not the custom, policy or practice of your business establishment to engage in or tolerate in any way any acts of invidious discrimination, and that you recognize the seriousness of the discrimination to which Ms. Hankton was subjected. At this point, Ms. Hankton has not instructed us to pursue the possible remedies outlined in the above statutory provisions, but to seek a constructive resolution that recognizes the harm your employee’s conduct has caused and outlines affirmative steps to ensure that no one else suffers similar harm in the future. Accordingly, we propose a resolution along the following lines:

1. You will compensate Ms. Hankton for all damages of any kind incurred by her, including attorneys’ fees incurred in connection with this matter, in an amount to be negotiated.

2. You will provide documentation establishing to our satisfaction that you have undertaken an appropriate investigation in connection with the above-described incidents and imposed appropriate discipline, up to and including termination of the employee directly involved, in accordance with applicable corporate policies and procedures.

3. You will provide documentation establishing to our satisfaction that you have undertaken appropriate training measures to ensure compliance with state and federal civil rights laws by all your employees.

Ms. Hankton’s goal, which the ACLU fully shares and which we hope you also share, is to ensure that as you and other Salt Lake City businesses prepare to welcome people from all over the world to the 2002 Winter Olympics, your employees will meet the highest professional standards, including a demonstrated ability to be sensitive to and respectful of the differences in people and to refrain from bigoted, stereotypical words, judgments and actions.

Please contact me within ten (10) days of your receipt of this letter. If you fail to do so, we will consider the following courses of action: (1) an application to the Attorney General for an investigation pursuant to the above statute, with a view to having your business establishment declared a public nuisance and enjoined from operation until and unless all discriminatory practices are abated; and/or (2) commencement of a civil action for damages and other appropriate relief.

I thank you in advance for your prompt attention to this serious matter.

Very truly yours,

Stephen C. Clark
Legal Director

 

cc: Hilton Hotels Corporation
9336 Civic Center Drive
Beverly Hills, California 90210