Adam’s Mark Files Suit Against Historians’ Group for Boycotting HotelBy Hilary Hurd
The Adam’s Mark hotel chain is suing the Organization of American Historians for pulling its annual meeting from their St. Louis hotel when it learned the hotel had been charged with racial discrimination.
The hotel chain is claiming it lost business when the group moved its annual convention from Adam’s Mark Hotel in St. Louis to St. Louis University.
The historians decided to move their convention to St. Louis University in February after the U.S. Department of Justice and other groups sued the hotel chain and its parent company, HBE Corp., for discriminating against guests on racial grounds during last year’s Black College Reunion in Daytona Beach, Fla.
Adam’s Mark settled two racial discrimination lawsuits out of court for $8 million one week before the historians’ annual meeting and admitted no wrongdoing. However, it was too late for the group to change its plans again (see Black Issues, May 11).
“The Organization of American Historians did not fulfill their obligation, despite the fact that ample time was provided for them to do so,” said Fred S. Kummer III, executive vice president for Adam’s Mark Hotel & Resorts, in a statement released by Adam’s Mark. “Adam’s Mark followed the same policy with regard to OAH as with every other convention group that books at our hotels. It’s unfortunate we have no other recourse but to take this action.”
Dr. Lee W. Formwalt, executive director of the Indiana-based Organization of American Historians, says, “We argue that [Adam’s Mark] breached the contract by not having an environment that was friendly to our members,” Nevertheless, Formwalt says he was somewhat surprised by the $100,000 lawsuit. “We thought they might be thinking of the public relations disaster it would be for them and not come after us,” says Formwalt.
But despite the lawsuit against them, Formwalt says the boycott was worth it in February and it’s worth it now.
“For many of our members it was a moral issue,” he says. “Moral issues are sometimes accompanied by pain. And we’re feeling some pain right now. But for many of our members there was no choice.”
The organization is now faced with $100,000 in expenses associated with relocating the convention to St. Louis University. Yale University contributed $10,000 to the organization to help defray the expense of moving the convention, with the help of Dr. David Montgomery, the immediate past president of OAH who also is a professor emeritus at Yale. The organization also has received approximately $20,000 in donations and life memberships from individuals on the OAH Executive Board, and $42,000 from members and other contributors.
As a result of its experience with Adam’s Mark, the historians’ group has been forced to examine its own minority membership. The organization currently has approximately 200 African American members — only 3 percent of its total membership.
“More astonishing, less than a dozen of these members are at the more than 100 historically Black colleges and universities,” says Formwalt in the organization’s August 2000 newsletter. “…As more members from these institutions [HBCUs] join OAH, the organization and all it does will reflect better the diversity of our society.”
Formwalt says that in its “struggle to improve diversity,” the OAH also must include efforts to bring in greater numbers of Latin, American Indian, Asian American and gay and lesbian historians.
And as the historians’ organization struggles to improve diversity in its own group, a national civil rights group recently commended Adam’s Mark for their fair employment practices.
Project Equality says Adam’s Mark “outperforms the industry in employment diversity and practices nondiscrimination in the work force,” according to the findings of a three-month, independent audit. The national civil rights organization examined the policies and procedures at each of the 22 Adam’s Mark Hotel properties and at its corporate headquarters with respect to federal fair employment practices.
“Overall, we found the procedures and practices to show no signs of intent to discriminate,” says a report from the Kansas City-based Project Equality. “We commend the Adam’s Mark Hotels on their inclusiveness of women and persons of color.”
Adam’s Mark officials say they are working on implementing the recommendations made by Project Equality, some of which include:
n Developing affirmative action plans for each hotel in 2000
n Posting the hotel’s commitment to the principles of employment nondiscrimination in its employment offices
n Reviewing and reissuing the hotel chain’s employee handbook
Dr. Jeffrey T. Sammons, a history professor at New York University, was influential in getting the OAH to relocate its annual meeting. Sammons says he doesn’t think the Adam’s Mark lawsuit will have a “chilling effect” on whether other organizations lead “principled protests.”
“The protest was never about money, but was one of principle,” Sammons says, adding that the hotel chain’s recent actions will keep them in the public eye — and unfavorably so.
Regardless of the lawsuit’s outcome, the historians are not backing down from this fight.
“We believe we are the aggrieved party,” Formwalt says. “We’re going to fight this.”
© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com