Ritz-Carlton deeply regrets handling of guests' racial request

The Ritz-Carlton Naples

280 Vanderbilt Beach Road, Naples, FL

— The Ritz-Carlton has issued an apology to a black waiter in Naples who filed a federal lawsuit alleging he was discriminated against when a British family asked not to be served by anyone of color or with an accent.

Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co. officials gave the statement to USA Today’s hotel and travel blog, Hotel Check-In, but refused to provide that same apology to the Naples Daily News, which published the story about Wadner Tranchant’s federal lawsuit, filed April 20 in U.S. District Court in Fort Myers.

Tranchant, 40, of East Naples, a 15-year hotel employee, sued after he was told not to serve the Rodney Morgan family March 12 in the beach-side hotel’s Grill Restaurant. The Rodney Morgan family could not be located for comment.

“We at the Ritz-Carlton deeply regret the manner in which the recent incident was handled while the guests were on property and the effect on Mr. Tranchant, a valued and long-term employee,” said the apology published Wednesday in USA Today. “...The Ritz-Carlton does not tolerate racially offensive comments or discriminatory treatment of our employees, and our data systems are not to be used to allow discriminatory requests by guests.”

The apology also went on to deny some of Tranchant’s allegations, although his attorneys, Michael R.N. McDonnell and Scott Martin Roth of Naples, have a copy of the computer entry and about nine witnesses who will support Tranchant’s account or testify it wasn’t the first time the hotel honored a discriminatory request.

McDonnell declined comment on the apology Thursday.

Asked why the apology was only provided to USA Today, Vivian A. Deuschl, the hotel’s corporate vice president of public relations said, “It’s a long story. We have to go back to our original statement because it’s pending litigation.”

The apology printed in USA Today was issued to “clarify a few impressions” and deny some of Tranchant’s allegations. It said:

“Neither Ed Staros, the general manager, nor the hotel’s management team directed any entries into any database regarding the guest preferences. Furthermore, contrary to the allegations, Mr. Staros never asked anyone at the hotel to comply with the guest’s wishes.”

“Not long after their departure, the guests attempted to make another reservation at the hotel and were informed by Mr. Staros they could not return. The guest contacted the corporate office to complain about the refusal to accept their reservations and the banning message was reiterated.”

“... We are proud of the racial and cultural diversity of our employees, who represent practically every country around the globe, as do our guests.

Simon Cooper, Ritz-Carlton president, is personally committed to ensuring that appropriate action is taken to address the shortcomings related to this incident and reinforcing training and education on Ritz-Carlton’s policies to our managers so that they respond immediately and appropriately if guests make inappropriate remarks or requests.”

Bruce Seigel, the director of marketing for the Ritz-Carlton Beach Restort, said Thursday that he could not comment further on the statement, saying the hotel believes the statement stands for itself. He did clarify, however, that the Mogan family was not just banned from the hotel in Naples, they were banned from staying at any Ritz property again.

“In 24 years, this has never happened,” he said of the incident.

Tranchant’s lawsuit says that around Feb. 28, the Morgan family arrived as guests and specified their preference to not be served by “people of color” or with “foreign accents.”

“As per Mr. Staros, this couple is very, very prejudice(d) and do like like (sic) ppl of color or foreign accents,” the lawsuit says, quoting the preference entered into the computer system.

The lawsuit contends it wasn’t the first such request. “Other employees of defendant Ritz also encountered similar treatment on multiple occasions,” the lawsuit says.

On March 12, the lawsuit says, the defendants instructed the serving staff about the stated prejudice of the Morgan family, with their reservation for “banquette seating” through its computer notification system and by word of mouth.

Tranchant’s normal duties involved serving guests, but on that day, his immediate supervisors prevented him from doing that due to the Morgans’ stated preferences, the lawsuit says, calling the hotel’s conduct pervasive and severe, leading a person such as Tranchant to find the work environment hostile or abusive.

As a result, the lawsuit says, he was humiliated, embarrassed, frightened, intimidated, subject to undeserved shame and suffered severe emotional stress, which is continuing and prompted him to seek medical and psychological treatment.

The lawsuit says the conduct violated Title 42 of the U.S. Civil Rights Act and was a pattern of invidious discrimination that was intentional and malicious or “done with such recklessness as to be tantamount to intentional conduct.”

Section 1981, the original Civil Rights Act of 1866, made it illegal to discriminate in jobs and housing on the basis of race or color. The lawsuit alleges Tranchant was denied the enjoyment of all benefits, privileges, terms, and conditions of the contractual relationship under that section, which provides equal rights for everyone.

The story has made headlines both nationally and in Britain, where the Morgan family resides.

On the Greenwich, Conn.-blog Greenwich Diva, which carried news of the story one commenter - identified as Cheryl F. - wrote, “Rodney Morgan’s racist actions have caused quite an uproar in the UK. Newspapers are carrying the story front pages and the UK public are attempting to find out who he is and where he lives. The racist stunt he and family members pulled in the US would never have been permitted in the UK and he knew he could never get away with his racist actions in the UK.”

Staff writer Katherine Albers contributed to this report.

© 2010 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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