Adam’s Mark Faces New Accusations of Racial BiasBlack College Reunion participant says Daytona Beach, Fla., hotel was hostile to Black guests
By Erik Lords
A year after receiving scads of negative publicity resulting from a racial discrimination settlement, the Adam’s Mark Hotel in Daytona Beach, Fla., faces new accusations of racial bias from a participant in the city’s annual Black College Reunion. A lawsuit filed in federal court last month by a promoter of the event is the third such action against the hotel chain’s Daytona Beach location in the last two years. Black College Reunion or BCR, is an annual weekend of festivities that attracts more than 100,000 Black youths to Daytona Beach each spring. The event has been broadcast on Black Entertainment Television in recent years and has been a popular venue for nationally known hip-hop music performers including Snoop Dogg and Eminem. But BCR has been making headlines for accusations of racism by Black students against hotels and other Daytona Beach businesses. In a lawsuit filed just days before this year’s BCR took place from March 30-April 1, Thomas “T.C” Copeland of Jacksonville, Fla., asked for an unspecified amount for damages from HBE Corp. of St. Louis, the Adam’s Mark parent company. The lawsuit claims the Adam’s Mark at Daytona Beach discriminated in 1999 against Black patrons by creating a special set of “house rules” applicable only to them. The rules included a requirement that hotel guests in town for BCR be at least 21 years old. According to the lawsuit, hotel officials used “insulting, stereotypical language admonishing the BCR attendees that illegal activity was prohibited.” The lawsuit alleges that Adam’s Mark displayed hostility toward Black guests and that Copeland, who was responsible for the accommodations for record executives and performers, lost business with record companies and musical artists because of the treatment. “He was hurt financially,” Copeland’s lawyer, Rodney Gregory, told Black Issues. “He suffered lost dollars.” Copeland did not return several telephone calls seeking comment. Fred Kummer III, executive vice president of HBE Corp., the hotel’s parent company, vehemently denied the accusations. Kummer, whose father founded HBE in 1960 and began the hotel division in 1973, said the policies and procedures in place that weekend two years ago applied to all hotel patrons. “We did not institute the rules based upon ethnicity or color or any other criteria,” Kummer said. Sharon Harvey Davis, a spokeswoman for Adam’s Mark, told Black Issues that Copeland’s lawsuit is merely an attempt to sway public opinion and piggyback on the attention created by an earlier lawsuit against the chain. “Mr. Copeland’s allegations are simply an attempt to recoup his purported financial losses as a BCR music promoter,” she said. He is “filing a frivolous, unfounded discrimination lawsuit against our hotel. In addition, the filing of his lawsuit — just before the kick-off of the 2001 BCR event — was timed to generate maximum publicity.”
Hotel rocked by earlier lawsuitAdam’s Mark owns 21 hotels in 13 states. But its Daytona Beach location has become the epicenter of its legal troubles. The first lawsuit came after five Black vacationers brought a class action suit against the chain in 1999 over the treatment of guests during BCR that year (see Black Issues, Nov. 9, 2000). They alleged that the hotel singled them out as security risks and made them — but no White guests — wear bright orange wristbands to get into the hotel. The U.S. Department of Justice later accused the chain of charging Black customers higher prices than Whites and segregating Black customers in less desirable rooms as part of a corporate pattern of discrimination. Kummer acknowledged that hotel guests were required to wear wristbands in 1999, but he said the practice has been halted. Last March, the Adam’s Mark admitted no wrongdoing in agreeing to an $8 million settlement between the hotel chain and the five visitors who said they were discriminated against during the 1999 BCR. The settlement was tossed out of court in October by a federal judge, and none of the plaintiffs received money for damages. The October ruling did not affect a separate nonmonetary settlement between the Justice Department and Adam’s Mark. Allison Bethel, with the Attorney General’s Office of Civil Rights, said the judge’s decision in that case has been appealed to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.
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