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Does Ritz-Carlton Believe the Racist Customer Is Always Right?

A lawsuit alleging that the Ritz-Carlton, Naples enabled and accommodated a British family's distaste for black people, offers a revealing look at the grim side of the hospitality industry. Instead of telling this one family to take a hike and spend their money elsewhere, the Ritz incorporated their xenophobic requests into the company's computer system. From the Times (London, U.K.):

A note of their demand was allegedly made on behalf of Edward Staros, the hotel's vice-president and managing director.

"As per Mr Staros this couple is very, very prejudice and do like like [sic] ppl of color or foreign accents," was allegedly typed into the hotel's computer system.

The family is only referred to as the Rodney Morgan family, a group of British nationals who allegedly left those instructions when they checked into the hotel and at least one man, a Haitian-American named Wadner Tranchant- the man who filed the distrimination lawsuit against the hotel and Staros - was prevented from serving the family at their table, the complaint said.
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.

Most in the hospitality industry are told that the customer is always right. But what if that customer is racist or abusive? Are they still right? Of course not. The lawsuit is pending and we don't know definitively what the Ritz-Carlton, Naples actually did, but at some point every hotel owner or manager must draw their own line in the sand. If we take Tranchant's word, apparently the Ritz-Carlton in Naples, Fla. was willing to accommodae racism and intolerance. And for allegedly doing that, they now face a multimillion dollar lawsuit.

Let's face it: The hospitality industry was never a beacon for integration. Instead, it accommodated (and may have cultivated) racist and intolerant attitudes. It wasn't until relatively recently, the 1960s, that black entertainers in Las Vegas and Palm Springs, Calif. were even allowed to frequent the same hotel, bar or even front door as whites. Now, 50 years later a hotel is accused of catering to that same kind of attitude.

I know that vacancy rates are high, but why wouldn't a general manager say to such an outrageous demand, "I'm sorry, Sir/Ma'am, but we cannot accommodate your request"? Aside from not doing the moral or ethical thing, the general manager has put the business and himself in harm's way. As one of the hundreds of comments to the articles said:

Boycott the Ritz Carlton. They need to do the right thing which is not always the profitable thing. Disgraceful if this is true. Appalling behavior by the visitors and violation of the law by the RC. Shame on them.
We live in a world where racial discrimination is no longer acceptable. It should no longer be acceptable in the hospitality industry.

Photo: Ritz-Carlton, Naples

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