A lawsuit was filed against The Hilton Hotels and the DoubleTree Hilton in Portland for $10 million on Wednesday for a racial profiling case that made national headlines last year, KOIN 6 News reports.
Portland law firm Kafoury & McDougal filed the suit on behalf of Jermaine Massey, who believes he was racially profiled while sitting in a DoubleTree lobby. Massey was registered as a guest at the hotel in the Lloyd Center but was asked to leave by hotel officials for what he refers to as "calling his mother while black."
Massey was in Portland to see Travis Scott at the Moda Center on December 22, 2018, when he got a late-night call from his mother on the East Coast. He sat in the lobby of the DoubleTree to take the call. While he was on the phone, a security guard came up to him, told him to leave and hotel management called the police.
When police arrived, hotel employees pointed out Massey as the trespasser.
"[They] forced him to go to his room, pack up all of his bags even though he was a guest at the hotel, and marched him out of the hotel lobby in front of the other guests," said one of Massey's attorneys, Jason Kafoury.
"Jermaine Massey was calm, he was asking questions, he was a paying guest — despite all that they labeled him a security threat and kicked him out of the hotel," he said.
Massey's lawyers accused the hotel chain of systemic racial discrimination in a press release, corroborated by multiple accounts from other African American's who had similar experiences thought to be based on their race. The law firm said they have been "flooded with stories from other African Americans about racist treatment at Hilton hotels."
"We're gonna get a list of everybody who's made a similar racial discrimination claim for being targeted in a hotel lobby of a Hilton," said Kafoury. "I think it's gonna be hundreds — and we're gonna find out what's happened with each of those cases."
Kafoury ended the press release by saying, "Mr. Massey hopes to learn what policies of Hilton have led to these events, what Hilton has done in response to such events, and will ask the jury to punish Hilton as an example to other hotels who may be tempted to encourage or tolerate discrimination at their places of business."
The lawsuit was filed for $3 million, but the press release states they will amend to request $7 million in punitive damages.
"He has a master's degree from the University of Maryland, he's worked for the FBI, he's worked for the US Department of Civil Rights and he's never had a racial discrimination moment like this in his life," said Kafoury. "Now, it's really changed him – how he approaches every situation in a public accommodation, he wonders if he's being targeted for the color of his skin. It's devastating."
Massey recorded the encounter with a security guard named Earl on his phone and posted it to Instagram. In those posts, he claims he was racially profiled.
In a statement to KOIN 6 News several days after the incident originally occurred, police said, "The employees, who had authority to trespass people from the hotel, requested the officer contact a person in the lobby they had reportedly directed to leave the property. The officer spoke with the man, who gathered his items and left the location. Prior to the man departing from the location, the Portland Police Bureau Officer offered the man assistance to a new hotel and at that time the man declined the offer."
DoubleTree management said in an initial statement that the whole incident was a misunderstanding and their hotel staff does not discriminate against people based on race.
Later on, in a statement to KOIN 6 News, DoubleTree General Manager Paul Peralta said:
"The safety, security and comfort of our guests and associates is our top priority at the Doubletree by Hilton Portland. This incident that occurred over the holidays between our hotel and guest is unfortunate. We are sorry that this matter ended the way it did and have reached out to the gentleman in order to resolve this matter. We are place of public accommodation and place a strong emphasis on diversity and inclusion and our hotel does not discriminate against any individual or group. We look forward to speaking with him."
DoubleTree Portland then announced those employees were fired in a Tweet on Dec. 28, 2018 that said, " We have terminated the employment of the two men involved in the mistreatment of Mr. Massey. Their actions were inconsistent with our standards & values. We reiterate our sincere apology for what he endured & will work with diversity experts to ensure this never happens again."
Hilton offered a statement responding to the lawsuit on Wednesday morning:
"Hilton has zero tolerance for racism and is committed to providing a welcoming environment for all guests. As a demonstration of our inclusive culture, our corporate employees and Hilton-managed hotels have completed diversity and unconscious bias training.
Following the incident in December 2018, Hilton accelerated scheduled training for all franchise properties globally and worked with the DoubleTree by Hilton Portland, Oregon, an independently owned and operated property, to ensure their employees have completed the diversity and unconscious bias training.
We also understand the property has updated their procedures, and engaged their own experts to guide engagement with local community groups. In our 100th year, we are proud of our company's culture, one that has earned us recognition as the #1 Company to Work For in the U.S. and #1 Workplace for Diversity."
KOIN 6 News is a media partner of the Portland Tribune.
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