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Assistant Attorney General Clarke Delivers Remarks on Lawsuit Challenging Policy Barring Native Americans From Accessing South Dakota Hotel and Sports Lounge


Washington, DC
United States

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery

Good afternoon. My name is Kristen Clarke, and I serve as the Assistant Attorney General for the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division. I am pleased to be joined by Alison Ramsdell, the United States Attorney for the District of South Dakota.

Protecting the civil rights of every person in this country is one of the Justice Department’s top priorities. We are committed to using every tool at our disposal to ensure compliance with federal civil rights laws.

Today, we are announcing that the Justice Department has filed a lawsuit against the owners and operators of the Grand Gateway Hotel and sports bar, Cheers Sports Lounge and Casino, in Rapid City, South Dakota, for violating Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title II is an important civil rights statute which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion or national origin in places of public accommodation, such as restaurants, hotels, movie theaters, nightclubs, stadiums and other places of exhibition or entertainment. This bedrock civil rights law has played a central role in ensuring that all businesses are open to everyone on a nondiscriminatory basis.

Our lawsuit today alleges that since at least March 20, 2022, the owners and operators of the hotel and sports lounge and casino discriminated against Native American customers by denying them the full and equal enjoyment of access to the services and accommodations at these businesses. For example, one of the defendants made statements that Native Americans were not allowed in the Grand Gateway or in the Cheers Sports Lounge and Casino. U.S. Attorney Ramsdell will speak more about the details of the statements made by the defendants.

Policies that prohibit Native Americans from accessing public places are patently offensive, discriminatory and have no place in our society today. These defendants have resorted to conduct akin to the kind of policies that were instituted during the Jim Crow era. By putting in place a policy that renders Native Americans to second class citizens, the defendants have clearly run afoul of our public accommodations law.

Policies flatly prohibiting Native Americans from establishments trample on civil rights laws and defy our nation’s promise of equal treatment under law.

Through this lawsuit, we are asking the court to prevent the defendants from continuing policies and practices that deny Native American patrons their rights under the law. We are also asking the court to require the defendants to take steps to remedy the effects of any discriminatory policies and practices. The complaint includes allegations of unlawful conduct, and those allegations must be proven in federal court.

In closing, no one should suffer discrimination because of their race, color, religion or national origin when booking a room at a hotel, dining at a restaurant or going to another place of public accommodation. Enforcement of our public accommodations law is important because it ensures that our country and our economy are open and inclusive to all people regardless of race. In the early days of the Civil Rights Movement, the Justice Department often relied on Title II to challenge policies that denied Black Americans access to establishments that provide food, drink, and shelter simply because of the color of their skin. This lawsuit reaffirms the Justice Department’s commitment to root out the evil of racial discrimination wherever it rears its ugly head. This filing also sends a powerful message to public accommodations, big and small, in urban or rural parts of the country, that when you try to shut the door on marginalized communities, you will be held accountable. 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 places of public accommodations around the country.

I want to thank U.S. Attorney Ramsdell for her work on this case and turn the floor over to her to provide more information about today’s lawsuit.

Civil Rights
Updated October 19, 2022