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Black family sues Hilton after police called for hotel's billing error

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Hilton and a Hampton Inn franchisee in Wilson, North Carolina, are accused of discrimination in a lawsuit filed by a Black family who allegedly had the police called on them due to a billing error by the inn. 

A White clerk's decision to telephone police in the Nov. 23, 2018, encounter "put our family in imminent danger," according to the suit filed Thursday in U.S. District Court on behalf of Dolores Corbett, her husband and two teenagers.

After staying overnight at the inn, the clerk loudly and repeatedly told Corbett her credit card had been declined, and refused to listen to Corbett's explanation that the $145-a-night room was prepaid with points from her Hilton Honors account, the suit contends.

When Corbett, a businesswoman from Eastampton, New Jersey, asked to talk to a supervisor, the clerk yelled at her to "get off my property" and called police, the suit alleged.

Worried about how the encounter would be relayed and how officers might react, Corbett checked out of the inn as quickly as she was able, with her husband and son waiting outside in their van as she and her daughter gathered their belongings. After police arrived, Corbett told them the family had not done anything wrong and the clerk conceded the family had paid their bill.

Still, police escorted the family from the hotel and circled their van in a restaurant parking lot as they waited for others in their party, the suit said. The family had traveled to North Carolina to attend a celebration for Corbett's mother-in-law for her work as community organizer, it added. 

The hotel's franchised owner, Patco Lodging, said in an emailed statement that it believes the suit is without merit and that it does not tolerate racism and discrimination. 

"We are aware of the lawsuit that was filed against a Patco entity regarding an incident that occurred at our property almost two years ago," the statement said. "We handled the incident properly and in accordance with Hilton's sensitivity programming, and our guest assistance team worked to understand, listen and address the concerns expressed at the time."

The incident was not an isolated one, the Corbett suit claimed. "There is a history of similar incidents involving African American guests and invitees at Hilton and Hilton franchise hotels throughout the United States, continuing up to and indeed beyond the time of the Corbetts' incident," according to the legal document "Hilton's employees, agents and apparent agents use security guards and local police to challenge and remove African-American guests from Hilton and Hilton franchise properties."

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A Hilton spokesperson said in an emailed statement to CBS MoneyWatch: "We do not normally comment on pending legal matters, especially those related to the guest experience at independently owned and operated hotels. However, Hilton's records show that our guest assistance team worked to resolve this complaint in 2018. We believe that our Hilton team engaged with sensitivity to understand, listen and address concerns about the guest's experience."

Last weekend, a worker at another Hampton Inn in Williamston, North Carolina, lost their job after calling police on a Black guest and her family swimming in the property's pool. 

Vimal Kolappa, the CEO of Washington Hospitality, the owner of the Hampton Inn by Hilton Williamston, posted an apology on social media. 

"Up until today, our normal process has been to involve law enforcement when we were unable to confirm if an individual is a guest of the hotel," Kolappa wrote. "We now understand this may have unnecessarily escalated this situation." 

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