By Petrie, Phil W.
The New Crisis , Vol. 108, No. 5
The NAACP Today
On July 11, at a 92nd Annual Convention press conference, NAACP President and CEO Kweisi Mfume, called for a boycott of the Adam's Mark Hotel chain for its discriminatory practices.
The St. Louis-based HBE Corp., Adam's Mark Hotel and Resort's owner, responded to the NAACP move by filing a lawsuit against the association on July 27. HBE charged the NAACP with "tortious interference" (not allowing Adam's Mark hotels to do business because of the NAACP's boycott) and "defamation" (HBE Corp. claims statements issued by the NAACP were false and malicious). The HBE Corp. took further action on July 30, asking the court for "injunctive relief," that is, to stop the NAACP's call for a boycott of Adam's Mark hotels.
Mfume said the lawsuit was "a blatant attempt to stymie the voice of the NAACP and others engaged in legitimate public criticism of this company's discriminatory practices."
On Aug. 3, the court denied HBE Corp.'s request to block the boycott. U.S. District Court Judge Alexander Harvey said in his opinion: "The public interest favors the assertion of First Amendment rights, not suppression of them." On Aug. 6, Adam's Mark dropped its lawsuit against the NAACP.
The origins of this legal wrangling began in April 1999, when several Black students accused the Adam's Mark Daytona Beach, Fla., hotel of racial discrimination during Black College Reunion Weekend, Apr. 9-11. Students alleged the hotel required them to wear color-coded wristbands while whites were not, and prepay their rooms at inflated rates. They also alleged they were not allowed to have more than four people present in their room at any time. They also claim that if you were Black and didn't have the color-coded band, you weren't admitted to the hotel. The students also reported that they were required to park in a remote lot and were not allowed to unload their luggage at the entrance to the Adam's Mark and that no assistance was provided for transporting their bags from the lot back to the hotel.
Five students initiated private lawsuits on May 20, 1999. They were represented by the NAACP's general counsel's office; the Washington Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights; and the law firms of Burr & Smith, Tampa, Fla.; Relman & Associates, Washington, D.C.; and Melehy & Melehy, Silver Spring, Md.
Based on events at the Black College Reunion, and the lawsuit initiated by the five students, the U.S. Justice Department and the Florida Attorney General's Office initiated their own investigations. The Justice Department's findings led it to investigate not only the Daytona Beach hotel, but five others in the Adam's Mark hotel chain. The Justice Department filed its complaint on Dec. 16, 1999. The Florida Attorney General's Office filed an unopposed motion to intervene in the private plaintiffs' action citing state claims under Florida's Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act.
The Justice Department alleged, among other things, that the Adam's Mark hotel chain violated Title II of the 1964 Civil Rights Act by placing minorities in less desirable rooms than white guests or segregating them to the least desirable areas of the hotel. The complaint also alleged that the chain charged minorities higher room rates and different prices for goods and services than those charged to white guests, in addition to applying stricter security, reservation and identification requirements to Blacks. …