Legally Speaking: Disputes are breeding grounds for lawsuits

The famous words uttered by Rodney King in 2004 still resonate—"Why can’t we all just get along?” When animosities fester, lawsuits are usually not far behind.

Two recent cases involving allegations of illegal discrimination rest on hostilities involving hotel personnel. Had the dissension been addressed in-house, neither case would likely have reached the level of court proceedings. 

In the first, during a hotel check-in, a disagreement between a would-be Native American guest and a hotel employee was triggered by a required damage deposit. As described by the court, “The [hotel operator] yelled so close to [the Native American seeking a room] that the latter could feel spit hitting his face.” A more hospitable employee might have resolved the guest’s concerns. Unfortunately, such an employee apparently was not on duty that day, and the events took an unhappy turn. 

The hotel employee involved posted on social media that she would “not allow a Native American to enter our business because I cannot tell who is a bad Native or a good Native.” This was followed by additional disparaging comments and refusals to rent rooms to tribal members. Not surprisingly, these actions generated protests against the hotel. The offended Native American and an organization that advances tribal issues sued the hotel for illegal racial discrimination. The case is pending.

The second case also involves a dispute that likewise accelerated unnecessarily. The plaintiff, an African American, was employed at the defendant hotel as a driver. Per the plaintiff, her boss constantly nitpicked her work, put notes in her mailbox and otherwise harassed her. This has all the makings of a dispute that began as a minor irritation between two employees that was not addressed and became toxic. 

Plaintiff reported her discontent to “upper management and human resources.” The hotel thus had a great opportunity to help resolve the discord. Per the plaintiff, management and HR did nothing, and she was fired soon thereafter. The reason per the employer: poor job performance. Plaintiff claimed she had never received any disciplinary talks, official write ups or suspensions. Plaintiff is now suing for racial discrimination. The case is pending. 

Best practice: Treat all people with great respect, both guests and employees. Be alert to the presence of conflicts and try hard to resolve them. Develop in-house dispute resolution opportunities and mandate their use. 

[1] NDN Collective v. Retsel Corp. d/b/a/ Grand Gateway Hotel and Cheers Sports Lounge and Casino, et al, 2023 WL 8480789 (W.D. S.D., 12/7/2023).
[2] Cooper v. Forest County Potawatomi Hotel & Casino, 2023 WL 8891433 (E.D. Wisc., 12/26/2023).