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To prove a § 1981 claim, a plaintiff must ultimately establish both that the defendant intended to discriminate on the basis of race, and that the discrimination interfered with a contractual interest. Similarly to claims asserted under Section 1981, to state a valid claim under Section 2000a a plaintiff must assert and show that he or she 1) is a member of a protected class, 2) attempted to exercise the right to full benefits and enjoyment of a place of public accommodation, 3) was denied those benefits and enjoyment; and 4) was treated less favorably than similarly situated persons who are not members of the protected class. Lastly, to state and sustain a claim for intentional infliction of emotion distress, plaintiff must allege and show that defendants' conduct was 1) extreme and outrageous 2) intentional or reckless, and 3) caused severe emotional distress.
The instant action arose from an incident that occurred at the defendant hotel, Clarion Hotel. Plaintiffs Eric Davis, his fiance Natasha Shumate, and their minor child Naera Shumate were in the area visiting family and looking at property. Each plaintiff was African-American. Seeking overnight accommodations, plaintiffs went to the defendant hotel. When they arrived, plaintiff went inside the hotel and inquired about room availability for them. He spoke with the front desk clerk, defendant Lisa Pierce, who told him that there were no rooms available and directed him to the nearby Comfort Suites. Plaintiffs took the defendant’s suggestion and proceeded with it. Upon arriving, the staff told him that there were no rooms available but he was told that the defendant hotel had rooms available and suggested plaintiffs seek accommodations there. Plaintiff then asked her to call to confirm that information. The clerk called and confirmed that there were rooms available at the defendant hotel. Plaintiffs returned, again, seeking overnight accommodations. While the amended complaint asserted that plaintiff entered the hotel first, the affidavits submitted by plaintiffs each state that all three plaintiffs entered the hotel together and that plaintiff partner and minor witnessed the three white males enter, request a room, and received one without hesitation. Each plaintiff asserted a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 for racial discrimination in the making and enforcement of a contract, a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 2000a for racial discrimination in the provision of public accommodations, and for intentional infliction of emotion distress. Defendants Twin Tier Hospitality LLC, Scranton Hospitality LLC, and Lisa Pierce moved for dismissal and defendant Choice Hotels International Inc., moved for summary judgment on plaintiff partner and daughter claims under section 1981 and section 2000a. Defendants argued that plaintiff partner and daughter never attempted to enter into a contract with defendants nor attempted to avail themselves of the full benefits and enjoyment of defendants' public accommodations and, therefore, no violation of section 1981 or section 2000a could have occurred. Additionally, defendants moved for summary judgment on plaintiffs' claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Should the defendants’ motion to dismiss and motion for summary judgment on the plaintiffs’ claim be granted?
The court held that the amendment to Section 1981 enacted by the Civil Rights Act of 1991 clearly prohibits discriminatory conduct that occurs both before and after the establishment of the contractual relationship. Thus, in this case, where an individual sought to enter a contract to rent a hotel room for the expressed purpose of accommodating himself, his fiance, and their minor child, the circumstances indicated that the hotel would intend to confer third-party benefits on the plaintiff fiance and minor child. Thus, the court found that the recognition of plaintiff fiancé and plaintiff daughter as third-party beneficiaries was appropriate to effectuate the intentions of the parties under the proposed contract. As such, summary judgment in favor of defendant was not appropriate. Moreover, the court held that on plaintiffs’ claims under 42 U.S.C. § 2000a, that plaintiffs were able to prove the first two elements, and that complaint alleged facts sufficient to establish the third and fourth elements of this claim. As plaintiffs alleged that they were denied the benefits of a contract for lodging while these white men received such benefits to which the defendants denied. Thus, an issue of fact remained as to the truth of those assertions. Defendants' motions will therefore be denied also on this point. Finally, the court held that while it would be incorrect to assert that racial discrimination was per se extreme and outrageous, it was equally incorrect to suggest that racial discrimination cannot constitute extreme and outrageous behavior for the purposes of an intentional infliction of emotional distress claim. The court found that the conduct alleged here was intentional, wanton, and assertedly discriminatory. That such conduct could easily cause a reasonable member of our society to exclaim, "Outrageous!" upon hearing of it. Thus, as plaintiffs’ complaint stated a valid claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress for which relief may be granted, the defendants' motion to dismiss on the grounds that defendants' conduct was not extreme and outrageous will be denied.