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$1.2M Verdict Upheld Against Muslim Hotel Owner for Discrimination

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Fundraising event shut down after hotel owner found out organization attendees were Jewish.

The Santa Monica, CA, Shangri-La Hotel and its Muslim owner are unable to evade more than $1.2 million in damages and $2 million in attorney’s fees for shutting down an event because the fundraisers were Jewish.

Tehmina Adaya is the owner and operator of the hotel, where a pool party was being held as a fundraiser for the Leadership Group of the Friends of the Israeli Defense Forces (FIDF).  Adaya, according to the court opinion, became “noticeably agitated” after reviewing one of FIDF’s pamphlets, and told the hotel’s former food and beverage director, Nathan Codrey, who coordinated the party, that she did not “want any [f----ing] Jews in the pool,” according to court documents.

Unruh act violated

The California Unruh Civil Rights Act requires that business establishments provide equal accommodations and services to all persons regardless of religion, race, color, sex, ancestry, national origin, disability or medical condition.  According to the court opinion, 18 plaintiffs testified that they were “systematically denied hotel services based on their religion,” and were discriminated against by Adaya and Shangri-La by their refusal to “provide them services at the hotel pool because they were Jewish.”

Adaya ordered Shangri-La staff to shut down the pool party by locking the pool gates, requiring the group to remove their banners and guests to remove their FIDF T-shirts, and dismantling the roped event dividers.

Guests receive hostile treatment

Several plaintiffs observed and overheard Adaya’s agitated behavior and remarks, including telling a security guard to “get them out, get them out, get them out,” and asking a non-Jewish hotel guests if she wanted Adaya to “get these people off the lounge chairs” according to the court opinion.  Adaya and her husband stared down the remaining FIDF guests for “at least an hour to an hour and a half,” according to Codrey’s testimony in the court document.

Codrey repeated Adaya’s comments to the event organizer and also repeatedly apologized for Adaya’s actions, which he called “blatant anti-Semitism.”  Expert witness testimony was provided by Rabbi Wolpe, who testified that the hotel staff and owner’s conduct “could fairly be characterized as anti-Semitic.”

Owner's Muslim background

Adaya and Shangri-La argued on appeal that the rabbi’s testimony and evidence of Adaya’s Pakistani Muslim background was prejudicial error. The appeal court disagreed, as testimony from Codrey indicated that Adaya repeated that the event was “embarrassing to her; that she is a Muslim, her parents or family are Muslims, and this is just absolutely wrong.”

The California court of appeals upheld the damages awarded by a jury to 11 plaintiffs after a 10-day trial and six days of jury deliberations, awarding $1.2 million in actual and statutory damages and $2 million in attorneys fees.

Adaya and Shangri-La argued many issues on appeal, which were denied by the court, including a lack of sufficiency of evidence proving their cessation of the event was not motivated by discrimination, but instead on the basis of “valid policies and practices” that “never existed in writing, and appeared to be applied at the whims of Adaya.”

Adaya also asserted her statements made to Codrey were inadmissible hearsay and the Rabbi’s expert witness testimony, including her religious background, were improperly admitted as evidence.  The appeal court denied these assertions.

Court upholds most of jury decisions

The court reversed the $405,000 punitive damage award for the intentional infliction of emotion distress, as it was duplicative of the statutory damages awarded under the Unruh act, which the court confirmed were punitive in nature.

The court also remanded the attorney fees award associated with the event promoter’s claims to the trial court for recalculation, however the attorney fees for the individual plaintiffs discriminated against were affirmed.  The plaintiffs were awarded damages ranging from $26,000 to $180,000, totaling to nearly $1.2 Million.

The case is Paletz v. Adaya, California Court of Appeal Case No. B247184, 2014 WL 7402324, at *1 (Cal. Ct. App. Dec. 29, 2014).

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