Los Angeles Times

Promoter's suit stirs up echoes of hotel dispute

of the Orlando Sentinel Staff

A federal lawsuit filed Tuesday by a promoter of Black College Reunion events and his company revived allegations of civil rights violations against the owners of the Adam's Mark Hotel in Daytona Beach.

Thomas Copeland of Jacksonville, president of Black College Reunion Inc., asked for an unspecified amount of damages from HBE Corp. of St. Louis. Five hotel patrons raised similar issues in their 1999 suit, which prompted intervention by the Florida Attorney General's Office and the U.S. Justice Department. That case is still in the courts.

The annual weekend of festivities attracts more than 100,000 Black college-age people to Daytona Beach each year. This year's events will start Friday.

Fred Kummer III, executive vice president of HBE Corp. in St. Louis, 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 and were in place to protect them.

"We did not institute the rules based upon ethnicity or color or any other criteria," Kummer said. "We had 100,000 'students' on the beach that weekend and we needed to protect our guests."

Black College Reunion Inc. serves as a promoter of various Black musical artists and companies who perform at events across the country with the same name. The company, which arranges accommodations, plans and organizes events and markets the event, is headquartered in Jacksonville.

The lawsuit filed in federal court in Orlando says that the Adam's Mark at Daytona Beach discriminated against Black patrons by creating a special set of "house rules" applicable only to them.

The rules included the requirement that hotel guests in town for Black College Reunion be at least 21 years old. Also, the hotel prohibited firearms except those carried by police officers, and prohibited guests from carrying cases of alcohol in the building, court records show.

The rules included "insulting stereotypical language admonishing the BCR attendees that illegal activity was prohibited," records show. The lawsuit alleges that Adam's Mark displayed hostility toward Black guests.

Black patrons were treated differently than white patrons that weekend, according to records.

"Adam's Mark hurt them," attorney Rodney Gregory said of Copeland and his company. "They suffered lost dollars."

The lawsuit claims that Copeland, who was responsible for the accommodations of record executives and performers, lost business with record companies and musical artists because of the treatment.

However, Kummer said rules against firearms, contraband and alcohol are routine at the Adam's Mark Hotels. He said age 21 is the minimum age for a person to make a hotel reservation in the state. Kummer acknowledged that hotel guests were required to wear wristbands, a practice that has been halted.

Kummer said the Daytona Beach hotel is one of their premier sites. He said his company has long supported the annual spring break weekend for Black students and is currently expanding the hotel from 436 rooms to 750 rooms.

"We are not afraid to bare our souls on anything because we acted prudently," Kummer said. "We acted in the best interests of protecting our guests."

In October, a federal judge threw out an $8 million class action settlement between the hotel chain and five visitors who said they were discriminated against during BCR in 1999. The settlement was reached in March 2000 with the cooperation of the Florida Attorney General's Office.

The ruling did not affect a separate non-monetary settlement between the U.S. 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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