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Press Release

Justice Department Files Lawsuit Challenging Policy Barring Native Americans From Accessing South Dakota Hotel and Sports Lounge

For Immediate Release
Office of Public Affairs

The Justice Department filed a lawsuit today against the owners and operators of the Grand Gateway Hotel, and the Cheers Sports Lounge and Casino, a sports bar that operates within the hotel, located in Rapid City, South Dakota. The lawsuit alleges that the defendants discriminated against Native American customers in violation of Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion or national origin in places of public accommodation, such as hotels and other places of entertainment. The suit is brought against the corporate owner, Retsel Corporation, and two of the company’s directors, Connie Uhre and her son, Nicholas Uhre.

“Policies prohibiting Native Americans from accessing public establishments are both racially discriminatory and unlawful,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “The Justice Department will continue to vigorously protect the rights of all people to go about their daily lives free from discrimination at hotels, restaurants and other public accommodations around the country.”

“Restricting access to a hotel based on a person’s race is prohibited by federal law,” said U.S. Attorney Alison J. Ramsdell for the District of South Dakota. “At the U.S. Attorney’s Office, we are called to ensure that individuals are treated equally at public accommodations in South Dakota. We are committed to protecting that fundamental right for Native Americans.”

The lawsuit, filed today in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Dakota, alleges that, since at least March 20, the Retsel Corporation, Connie Uhre and Nicholas Uhre discriminated against Native American customers through policies and practices that denied Native Americans the full and equal enjoyment of access to the services, accommodations and privileges at the Grand Gateway Hotel and the Cheers Sports Lounge and Casino.

Specifically, the complaint alleges that on March 20, Connie Uhre told other Rapid City hotel owners and managers that she did “not want to allow Natives on property...The problem is we do not know the nice ones from the bad natives…so we just have to say no to them!” That same day, Connie Uhre allegedly posted a statement in a comment thread from her Facebook account announcing that “we will no longer allow any Native American [sic]” in the Grand Gateway or in the Cheers Sports Lounge and Casino. The complaint further alleges that on at least two occasions on March 21 and March 22, respectively, the defendants turned away Native Americans who sought to book a room in the Grand Gateway. 

Under Title II, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division can obtain injunctive relief that changes policies and practices to remedy the discriminatory conduct. Title II does not authorize the division to obtain monetary damages for customers who are victims of discrimination. 

More information about the Civil Rights Division and the laws it enforces is available at Individuals may report discrimination in places of public accommodation that violates Title II by calling the Justice Department at 1-833-591-0291, or submitting a report online.

The complaint contains allegations of unlawful conduct, and the allegations must be proven in federal court. 

Updated October 19, 2022

Civil Rights
Press Release Number: 22-1125