Public Accommodations Project

Dennis Corkery

Senior Staff Attorney

Cases involving civil rights violations in places of public accommodation (businesses open to the public) arise with some frequency, and are staffed by attorneys from the various Committee Projects.

New report issued by the Committee, Equal Rights Center and Hogan Lovells LLP finds taxicabs discriminating against individuals with service dogs.Over the past forty years, the Committee has played a leading role in a series of high-profile national cases, starting with a case against Holiday Spas Health Clubs, and hotel and restaurant chains such as Denny’s and Adams Mark Hotels.

The Committee’s work in this area is not limited to restaurants and hotels. For example, the Committee achieved a major settlement against an Avis rent-a-car franchise in South Carolina in a case that alleged discrimination against black customers. The Committee has successfully sued several local taxicab companies for discrimination against African Americans, as well as refusing to provide equal service to predominantly African-American neighborhoods. Most recently, the Committee is representing the NAACP in a series of lawsuits challenging denials of civil rights of African Americans attending the annual “Black Bike Week” in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

The Committee’s pioneering fight against consumer racism – more than 35 years after the sit-ins at segregated lunch counters – has resulted in important victories for individual victims of discrimination and changed the way companies do business.

Bolden v. J&R Inc. Taxicab Co.

Co-counseling with Crowell & Moring LLP, the Committee obtained a verdict of $120,000 on behalf of an African-American DC resident and his white friend and colleague, who were victims of race discrimination in the provision of taxicab service. Judgment was against the taxicab company and its driver for denying taxicab service on the basis of race.

The verdict is one of the first against a cab company and driver for discrimination against an African-American patron. The case also resulted in a judicial decision affirming the legal principle that cab companies can be liable for the discriminatory behavior of their drivers, even when the drivers are independent contractors rather than employees.

Pugh v. Avis Rent-A-Car Systems, Inc.

Working with Crowell & Moring LLP and the North Carolina firm of Parker, Poe, Adams & Bernstein LLP, the Committee brought this federal lawsuit alleging that Avis Rent-A-Car discriminated against African-Americans who sought to rent vehicles from the company. The Committee was able to obtain sworn statements from former Avis employees indicating that senior executives at the company were aware of the discriminatory practices but refused to take any action.

The case was eventually settled as a class action for $5.4 million.

Dyson et al. v. Denny’s Inc.

The Committee, co-counseling with the law firm of Hogan & Hartson LLP, filed a class action lawsuit against Denny’s alleging that it discriminated against African-American patrons by refusing service and/or providing lower quality service. The Committee’s involvement in the lawsuit began in April 1993 when 21 uniformed Secret Service officers assigned to protect President Clinton during his visit to the Naval Academy stopped for breakfast at a Denny’s restaurant in Annapolis. Six African-American officers, who sat at a table together, waited nearly an hour to order while their white colleagues were served.

The case was eventually settled on a class-wide basis for $17.725 million. The Committee issued 136,000 checks to African-Americans across the country in the largest class action settlement distribution ever undertaken in a public accommodations case.

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