Housing And Civil Enforcement Cases Documents

IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
WESTERN DIVISION


UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
     Plaintiff,

v.

FRED THOMAS, individually;
FRED THOMAS d/b/a Best Western
Scenic Motor Inn; and
STEPHEN THOMAS,
     Defendants.

________________________________


  1. INTRODUCTION

On January 18, 2001, the United States filed a complaint in this Court alleging that defendants Fred W. Thomas, individually and d/b/a Best Western Scenic Motor Inn, and Stephen Thomas ("defendants") violated Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §2000a et seq., by discriminating against African Americans and other minorities in the provision of public accommodations. In its complaint, the United States alleges that defendants have engaged in a pattern or practice of denying African Americans and other minorities, on the basis of their race, color or national origin, the full and equal use and enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations of the Best Western Scenic Motor Inn ("Best Western") located at 773 Batesville Road, Batesville Arkansas.

Specifically, the United States alleges that defendants engaged in the following discriminatory conduct:

  1. denying lodging to African Americans and other minorities who made in-person inquiries regarding vacancies solely on the basis of race, color, or national origin, despite the availability of rooms;

  2. instructing Best Western employees to attempt to ascertain the race or ethnicity of individuals calling for reservations over the telephone, and to deny accommodations to callers deemed to be African Americans or members of other minority groups, despite the availability of rooms;

  3. instructing Best Western employees to inform minority callers on the basis of their race, color or national origin that no rooms were available when rooms were in fact available;

  4. on those occasions when defendants rented rooms to African Americans and other minority guests, steering such guests to less desirable rooms; and

  5. on those occasions when defendants rented rooms to African Americans and other minority guests, providing less favorable terms and conditions than to similarly situated white guests.
  1. PLAINTIFFS' CONTENTIONS
  1. Subsequent to the filing of the Complaint, defendants entered into an agreement to sell their ownership interest in the Best Western, to third parties unrelated to this action. (1)
  2. The United States is committed to achieving full compliance with Title II, both with respect to the Best Western and any other public accommodations establishment in which defendants have or may acquire an ownership or management interest. It is the position of the United States that the pending sale of the motel does not obviate defendants' obligations under the statute or this lawsuit. The parties agree, however, that in order to avoid protracted and costly litigation, their controversy should be resolved through the terms of this Consent Decree. Therefore, the United States and the defendants have consented to the entry of this Decree without a trial or adjudication on the merits. Although the defendants deny the allegations of the United States, the United States sets forth below a summary recitation of the evidence of discrimination it contends would have been proved at trial:
  3. Throughout all periods relevant to this case, the Best Western Scenic Motor Inn, which also conducts business under the name, the Scenic Motor Inn, was independently owned and operated by Fred W. Thomas as a 40 room tourist class motel in Batesville, Arkansas. The motel was managed by Fred W. Thomas' son, Stephen Thomas. Stephen Thomas' wife, Diana Thomas, also performed managerial duties and responsibilities at the motel. The Best Western Scenic Motor Inn is a fee-paying "member" of Best Western International, Inc.
  4. The Best Western is an L shaped 40 room bi-level tourist class motel with exposed doors facing the parking lot. It provides standard lodging amenities, such as bed, television, telephone, bath and toilet facilities in every guest room. There are no meals or entertainment provided within the actual structure of the motel, but a restaurant owned by defendant Fred W. Thomas that is not subject to the United States' complaint in this action is situated adjacent to the motel. The motel is located in Batesville, Arkansas, an area provided with interstate highway access by U.S. Highway 67/167. The motel is approximately 90 miles northeast of Little Rock on U.S. Highway 167.
  5. Acting on their own and through their employees and agents, defendants established and implemented policies and procedures that denied lodging to African Americans and other minorities when in fact lodging was available.
  6. Defendants frequently directed their employees to deny African Americans and other minorities available rooms because such rooms could be rented to "better people."
  7. Defendants routinely instructed their employees to provide false information to callers they concluded were minorities based on speech or accents.
  8. Defendant Stephen Thomas observed individuals approach the motel from a vacant room overlooking the parking lot, telephoned employees working at the registration desk, and instructed them to deny rooms to African Americans and other prospective minority guests.
  9. The majority of prospective African American and other minority guests were illegally refused lodging at the Best Western based on their race, color, or ethnicity. On occasions when African Americans and other minorities were not denied lodging at the Best Western, defendants on their own or through their employees provided such guests inferior quality lodging when superior quality lodging was available and was provided to white guests.
  10. To implement their discriminatory room assignment policies, defendants established a color coding system for room assignments. Red tabs signified "bad" or poorer quality rooms, and white tabs signified "good" or higher quality rooms.
  11. Defendant Stephen Thomas changed room assignments on the basis of race, color, and ethnicity in order to place African Americans and other minority guests in bad rooms.
  12. Defendants instructed Best Western's employees to flag the ethnicity or race of guests on reservation cards and registration log books. Specifically, defendants instructed employees to note "h.r." or "high risk" for African American and other minority guests on the reservation cards in order to ensure that such guests would be placed in bad rooms.
  13. In 1996, a group of African American guests attending a church revival in Batesville reserved three rooms at the Best Western. When one of the African American guests requested an extension of her group's stay for an additional week, her request was denied. When the same guest requested that accommodations for her group be extended only through the weekend, that request was also denied. Defendant Stephen Thomas indicated to his employees that a folk festival, attended primarily by white people, was scheduled over that same weekend and that he did not want black guests at the motel at the same time as the white guests who would be attending the festival. Although enough rooms were available to accommodate the guest's request to extend her group's stay, Defendant Stephen Thomas falsely stated to her that the motel was booked for the weekend and that no rooms were available.
  14. Defendants provided formal and informal training to employees that encouraged and promoted denial of lodging or lodging of an inferior quality to African Americans and other minorities. Employees were given instructions during training and throughout their employment regarding the defendants' policies against renting to persons they considered "undesirables," including African Americans and other minorities.
  15. Defendants established an atmosphere of antipathy toward African Americans and other minorities by freely using racial epithets or making racially derogatory remarks, including the statement, "We don't like blacks." Additionally, qualified African American applicants were denied interviews for jobs while defendants gave white applicants immediate interviews.
  1. JURISDICTION, SCOPE, AND TERM OF DECREE
  1. Jurisdiction. The parties stipulate and the Court finds that: (1) Best Western is a place of public accommodation within the meaning of 42 U.S.C. § 2000a(b)(1); (2) Best Western's operations affect interstate commerce within the meaning of 42 U.S.C. § 2000a(c)(1); and (3) this Court has personal jurisdiction over defendants for purposes of this action and jurisdiction over this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 2000a-6 and 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1343 and 1345.
  2. Scope. All provisions of this Decree shall apply to defendants, their employees or agents, and to defendants' successors, to the extent that their cooperation is required in implementing Section V.C.2-5 of this Decree, and to anyone acting in whole or in part under the direction of defendants in connection with the treatment of and/or service to customers of the Best Western.
  3. Term. The provisions of this Decree are effective immediately upon the entry of the Decree by the Court. The Decree shall be effective for a period of ten (10) years. At the end of this period, this case will be dismissed by the Court, unless, at least sixty (60) days prior to the expiration of the ten (10) year period, the plaintiff asks the Court to extend the term if it contends there has been a lack of substantial compliance with the Decree's terms.
  1. DEFINITIONS
  1. "Complaint" - includes any oral or written, formal or informal complaint, to any administrative or official body, 1-800 Complaint line, or to any officer, shareholder, employee, or agent of Best Western.
  2. "Best Western" - unless otherwise specified, refers to the Best Western Scenic Motor Inn located at 773 Batesville Road, Batesville, Arkansas 72501 and shall refer to that facility if operated under any other name during the term of the Consent Decree.
  3. "Defendants" - Fred Thomas, individually; Fred Thomas, d/b/a Best Western Scenic Motor Inn; and Stephen Thomas.
  4. "Minority" - actual or perceived members of the following racial/ethnic categories: African Americans, Asian/Pacific Islanders, Latinos or Hispanics, and Native Americans.
  5. "Public accommodations as defined in Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964," - establishments affecting interstate commerce or supported in their activities by State action as places of public accommodation including but not limited to places of lodging (e.g. hotels and motels), restaurants, bars, clubs, lounges, gasoline stations, places of exhibition or entertainment and all the facilities or outlets owned or operated by places of lodging, restaurants, bars, clubs, lounges, or places of exhibition or entertainment as public accommodations.
  1. NONDISCRIMINATION PROVISIONS
  1. Injunction Against the Thomases
    1. Defendants Fred Thomas and Stephen Thomas, and Diana Thomas, are hereby enjoined from owning, wholly or in part, operating, consulting, managing, staffing, participating in, working in (whether paid or unpaid), or otherwise having any interest, directly or through any agent, representative, or entity in any public accommodation for the term of this Decree.
    2. After the expiration of this Decree, if Fred Thomas, Stephen Thomas, and/or Diana Thomas intend to own, wholly or in part, operate, consult, manage, staff, participate in, work in (whether paid or unpaid), or otherwise have any interest, directly or through any agent, representative, or entity in any public accommodation, he/she shall notify the United States within thirty (30) days of such intention.

      In no event shall he/she begin his/her ownership, in whole or in part, operation, consultation, management, staffing participation in, employment, or other interest in such public accommodation without such prior notice to the United States and confirmation that the requesting individual has completed a minimum of a three hour training session in Title II's nondiscrimination provisions. Such training shall be provided by an organization approved by the United States. The requesting individual(s) shall be wholly responsible for all costs and fees associated with the training.

    3. Defendants, and Diana Thomas, are hereby enjoined from harassing, intimidating, or retaliating against, directly or indirectly, or through an agent, representative, or entity, any former employees who were involved, or were believed to have been involved, as witnesses in the United States' investigation and/or complaint against defendants, including Ron Stair, Barbara Skripko and Lucy Jean Mofield. Violation of this provision shall subject defendants, and any other individuals or entities acting in concert with defendants to violate this provision, to civil action, and/or any other remedies allowable under this Decree or applicable law.
    4. Defendants and Diana Thomas, directly, or through their agents, shall not have any unsolicited contact with the new owners, managers, or staff of the Best Western. Under no circumstances shall the defendants or Diana Thomas provide the new owners, managers, or staff with training or information regarding practices and procedures employed by the defendants with respect to guests or prospective guests. No provision in this Decree shall be interpreted to limit the defendants from providing necessary information, documents, or items necessary for the new owners to assume ownership or engage in successful operation of the motel.
  2. General Injunction

    Defendants and Diana Thomas are HEREBY PERMANENTLY ENJOINED from:

    1. Denying to any person the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any place defined as a public accommodation in Title II of the Civil Rights Act because of the race, color or national origin of that person or anyone associated with that person;
    2. Denying lodging, or offering less favorable terms and conditions of lodging, to any person based on the race, color or national origin of that person or anyone associated with that person;
    3. Representing to any person that lodging is unavailable, when lodging is in fact so available, based on the race, color or national origin of that person or anyone associated with that person;
    4. Imposing different reservation requirements based on the race, color or national origin of that person or anyone associated with that person;
    5. Assigning any person to a particular room based on the race, color, or national origin of that person or anyone associated with that person;
    6. Segregating any persons to particular locations of the motel based on the race, color or nation origin of that person or anyone associated with that person;
    7. Conditioning availability of rooms or the quality of rooms assigned and/or provided on the guest's actual or perceived racial or ethnic membership;
    8. Adopting practices, policies or procedures in the management of such public accommodation that are designed to exclude, or have the effect of excluding, persons from lodging at the Best Western on the basis of their race, color, or national origin or that are designed to discourage persons from patronizing such public accommodation on the basis of their race, color, or national origin; and
    9. Violating any federal civil rights law prohibiting discrimination.

  3. Affirmative Remedies

    1. Defendants' Establishment of Escrow Account to Remedy the Effects of Past Discrimination

      To provide the new owners of the Best Western with assistance to effectively implement the injunctive provisions of this Decree, within five (5) days after the entry of this Consent Decree, defendants shall deposit in an interest-bearing escrow account approved by the United States the sum of Thirteen Thousand Dollars ($13,000.00). In no event shall defendants' monetary obligations under Section V.C. of this Decree exceed this amount. The parties shall designate an individual(s) employed by the financial institution having custody of the escrow account as custodian with authority to prepare and sign checks drawing on the escrow account pursuant to the procedures set forth below. The escrow agreement shall provide that the custodian of the escrow account shall read this Decree and prepare and sign checks only upon the written instruction of the defendants, with the written approval of the Unites States, as provided in Sections V.C.2-5 below. The injunctive provisions are listed below in the priority order by which funds in the escrow account shall be depleted.

      In addition, within five (5) days after the entry of this Decree, defendants and Diana Thomas shall provide the United States with a signed statement, under penalty of perjury, acknowledging that they have received a copy of the Decree and that they understand the terms of the Decree. The statement shall be in the form outlined in Exhibit 1 attached hereto.

    2. Non-Discrimination Signs

      Within fifteen (15) days of the date of entry of this Consent Decree, defendants shall submit to the United States for approval two printed signs, each approximately eleven (11) inches by eighteen (18) inches in dimension, stating (one in English and the other in Spanish) that service will be provided to all persons without regard to race, color, religion, or national origin. Both signs shall be in block letters. The contents of such signs are set forth in Exhibit 1 attached hereto. Defendants' submission shall provide to the United States samples of these signs. The samples shall reflect the general appearance of the signs, including the height and font of the letters, the color of the letters and their contrasting background, and a description of the permanent material on which the signs shall be printed. Each sign shall be printed in dark letters, on a contrasting background, on permanent material not less than ¼" thick, and shall be located directly behind the primary and most frequently used registration location so that it is directly visible to all patrons as they enter the premises.

      No later than thirty (30) days after the United States' approval, defendants shall permanently post and maintain the approved printed signs side by side in a well-lighted area at a height from the ground between 5' and 6'5" directly behind every registration desk within the Best Western. At no time during the term of this Decree shall such signs be obstructed or removed for any reason without prior approval from the United States.

      Additional, identical signs, within the same time period outlined above, shall be permanently posted and maintained in a well-lit area at a height from the ground between 5' and 6'5" near the entryway or waiting area, if any, to the restaurant adjacent to the Best Western Scenic Motor Inn, and in any other place of public accommodation, as defined in Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, in which any of the defendants presently has or subsequently acquires any ownership or management interest, including any place of public accommodation owned or managed by an entity in which any of the defendants or Diana Thomas has an ownership or managerial interest.

      Defendants have agreed to provide Best Western's new owners with all costs and fees associated with the implementation of this provision, not to exceed $500 per sign. Within five (5) days after receiving the United States' approval of the signs, Defendants shall direct the custodian of the escrow account created pursuant to Section V.C.1 above to prepare a cashier's check payable to the entity selected to produce the signs.

    3. Training

      Within thirty (30) days of the date of entry of this Consent Decree, defendants shall retain, at their expense, an independent organization or agency, approved by the United States, to provide Best Western's new owners and all of their employees, agents, and contractors who have any responsibility for the provision of guest services, a program of educational training concerning the provisions of this Consent Decree; the substantive provisions of federal, state and local civil rights laws, regulations or ordinances applicable to places of public accommodation; and their responsibilities under the Decree and such laws. Such training shall be provided and completed no later than thirty (30) days after the organization is so retained. Any new employees retained by the new owners during the term of this Decree shall also be provided such training, to the extent there are funds available in the escrow account. Training for new employees will be conducted only ever six (6) months. In no event shall any current employees responsible for providing guest services at the Best Western be employed by the new owners for longer than six months subsequent to the sale. The United States shall select the organization to conduct the training, which shall be from three (3) to five (5) hours in duration. All persons attending such a program shall have their attendance certified in writing by the person conducting the program. Within five (5) days of the entry of this Decree, defendants shall provide to the purchaser a list of employees responsible for providing guest services at the motel during the past five (5) years, including desk clerks. All costs and fees associated with the implementation of this provision, not to exceed $1,000 per training session shall be paid from the funds in the escrow account. Within five (5) days after receiving the United States' approval of the training contract or agreement, Defendants shall direct the custodian of the escrow account created pursuant to Section V.C.1 above to prepare a cashier's check payable to the entity selected to conduct the aforementioned training.

    4. Marketing

      In order to promote a non-discriminatory reputation of the Best Western, the defendants shall, within thirty (30) days of the date of entry of this Consent Decree, contract to provide Best Western's new owners with marketing and advertising. Such marketing shall include advertisements for the Batesville Best Western for every month for the first thirty-six (36) months from the date of entry of this Consent Decree, and every quarter thereafter for the remaining life of this Consent Decree, or until the funds in the escrow account are depleted.

      Such advertisements shall appear in the following: the Batesville Guard and the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, and a newspaper or trade publication whose readership consists substantially of African American readers. These advertisements shall be one fourth of one page of the relevant newspaper or other print media in size, and shall contain the language set forth in Exhibit 3.

      Defendants have agreed to provide Best Western's new owners with all costs and fees associated with the implementation of this provision until a total amount of $8,000 has been expended towards this marketing provision, or the escrow account is depleted, whichever comes first.

    5. Testing

      Within thirty (30) days of the date of entry of this Consent Decree, defendants shall retain an independent testing agency, approved by the United States, to conduct public accommodations "testing" at the Best Western. "Testing" refers to an investigative process in which a similarly situated pair of individuals, or a group of individuals, is sent to and/or telephones the Best Western under controlled circumstances to determine if Best Western employees at that location are discriminating on the basis of race, color or national origin. Testing shall be conducted to include telephone reservations, walk-in reservations, room assignments, room rates, and other services and procedures in order to obtain information regarding the testers' full and equal use and enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations of the Best Western. The costs and expense of all tests shall be paid through disbursements from the escrow account, to the extent there are funds available in that account.

      No fewer than four (4) tests per year shall be conducted during the life of this Consent Decree, to the extent funds are available in the escrow account. A test will count toward the annual totals described in this paragraph only if it is complete. A test is "complete" only if all the testers assigned to visit the location have in fact visited the location, if required, have been able to make contact with a Best Western representative, and have submitted a testing report to the United States.

      The results of all tests conducted pursuant to this section and supporting documentation shall be reported to the United States within fifteen (15) days of the conclusion of each completed each test. Such results and all supporting documentation shall be confidential and not disclosed to any individual or entity other than the testing organization, the United States, and the new owners. Where such results indicate a possible violation of the law, the United States shall have the option to conduct an independent investigation and/or propose further remedies, including but not limited to heightened training requirements, increased reporting requirements, shorter reporting periods, and other remedies as may be necessary to ensure effective and long-lasting changes. Such proposed remedies shall be implemented no later than thirty (30) days after notification in writing by the United States. The United States retains the right to conduct its own testing of Best Western or any other places of public accommodation owned wholly or in part by any of the defendants or new owners at any time.

      All costs and fees associated with the implementation of this testing provision shall be paid through disbursements from the escrow account until the account is depleted. No disbursements from the account shall be made without prior approval of the United States. Defendants shall notify the United States no fewer than seven (7) days prior to each scheduled disbursement. The notification shall include the amount of the proposed disbursement, the purpose of the disbursement, and the identity of the recipient. Following written approval by the United States, disbursements shall be made by the custodian of the account. Subsequent to implementation and satisfaction of provisions V.C.2-4 above, all costs and fees associated with this testing provision under the terms outlined above will be paid out of the escrow account until the remainder of the escrow account has been expended.

  1. ADMINISTRATIVE PROVISIONS

This Court shall retain jurisdiction of this case for the purpose of enforcing this Consent Decree. The parties shall endeavor to resolve informally any differences regarding interpretation of or compliance with this Consent Decree prior to bringing such matters to the Court for resolution. Before any party brings such matter to the Court, the moving party shall file with the Court a certification that the parties have conferred in good faith in an attempt to resolve the dispute. However, if such good faith attempt to resolve the dispute has failed, the United States may seek any and all relief from this Court including contempt of court and/or the assessment of a monetary penalty of $3,000.00, against defendants for every substantive instance of noncompliance. Such penalty or penalties shall be paid to an organization furthering fair housing in the state of Arkansas and selected by the United States.

It is so ORDERED, ADJUDGED and DECREED this __[27th]__ day of __[September]__, 2001.

_________________________
GEORGE HOWARD, JR.
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE


By their signatures below, the parties consent to the entry of this Consent Decree.


FOR THE PLAINTIFF

Ralph F. Boyd, Jr.
Assistant Attorney General
Civil Rights Division
Joan A. Magagna, Chief
Jeanine M. Worden
Deputy Chief
Je Yon Jung
Nancy F. Langworthy
Trial Attorneys
Housing and Civil Enforcement Section
Civil Rights Division
U.S. Department of Justice
P.O. Box 65998
Washington, DC 20035-5998
Tel: (202) 305-1457
Fax: (202) 514-1116

Michael D. Johnson
United States Attorney
P.O. BOx 1229
Little Rock, AR 72203
(501) 324-5342

FOR THE DEFENDANTS

Mr. Michael Moore
Friday, Eldredge & Clark
2000 Regions Center
400 West Capitol Avenue
Little Rock, AR 72201
501-370-1526
501-376-2147 fax

FRED W. THOMAS

STEPHEN THOMAS

DIANA THOMAS

EXHIBIT 1 N O T I C E THIS MOTEL PROVIDES LODGING ACCOMMODATIONS TO ALL MEMBERS OF THE PUBLIC WITHOUT REGARD TO THEIR RACE, COLOR, RELIGION OR NATIONAL ORIGIN. IT IS AGAINST THE LAW FOR A PLACE OF LODGING TO DISCRIMINATE ON THE BASIS OF RACE, COLOR, RELIGION, OR NATIONAL ORIGIN.
EXHIBIT 2

I have been given and I have read a copy of the Consent Decree entered in United States v. Fred W. Thomas, individually and Fred W. Thomas d/b/a Best Western Scenic Motor Inn, and Stephen Thomas, Eastern District of Arkansas, Civil Action No. _____________. I HAVE READ THE Consent Decree, I understand the terms of that Decree, and I further understand that federal law guarantees that no person may be denied, on account of their race, color, religion, or national origin the full use and enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations of the Best Western Scenic Motor Inn, or any other place of public accommodation. With that understanding, I agree that, as a condition of my providing goods and/or services in the provision of accommodations on behalf of the Best Western Scenic Motor Inn or any other place of public accommodation, neither I nor any other person who serves as my agent in any capacity, shall discriminate in any manner on account of race, color or national origin in the provision of such goods and/or services.

Under penalty of perjury,

__________________________
Signature
__________________________
Name
__________________________
Home Address
__________________________
Home Telephone Number
__________________________
Date


EXHIBIT 3
ADVERTISEMENT

THE BEST WESTERN SCENIC MOTOR INN
773 Batesville Blvd.
Batesville, Arkansas 72501


1. In order to implement effectively the terms of the Consent Decree between the United States and the defendants, the new owners of the Best Western have entered into a side agreement with the United States acknowledging the obligations of the Thomases and the need for their cooperation to implement such obligations. This agreement is attached hereto as Exhibit 4.


Document Signed: September 27, 2001. > >

Updated August 6, 2015

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