Hotel Guest’s Race-Based Housing Discrimination Claim Dismissed

In Unobagha v. Hilton Garden Inn Times Square North, No. 652744/2022, 2022 WL 16950044 (N.Y. Sup Ct, New York County Nov. 15, 2022), the court, inter alia, dismissed plaintiff’s claim of housing discrimination asserted under the New York City Human Rights Law.

Such discrimination is actionable under N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 8-107 (5)(a)(1), which makes it an unlawful discriminatory practice to refuse housing accommodations to any person because of that person’s actual or perceived race, creed, color, national origin, gender, age, disability, sexual orientation, marital status, or alienage or citizenship status. In order to make out a claim under this section, a plaintiff must allege that she was “treated less well” because of a protected characteristic.

The court held that plaintiff did not do so here. From the decision:

The Court grants the branch of the motion that seeks to dismiss the race discrimination claim. The issue for this Court is that the detailed allegations contained in the complaint do not come close to asserting a cause of action for racial discrimination. Instead, they detail a heated exchange between the front desk employee at the hotel and plaintiffs when plaintiffs’ bags could not be initially located. The Court makes no finding about who is to blame for how the dispute began but clearly, assuming the allegations are true as the Court must on a motion to dismiss, the argument escalated to the point where the police were called.

But the severity of the dispute does not, by itself, connote a racial animus toward plaintiffs. In fact, the only basis for the discrimination claim cited in the complaint is the front desk employee’s purported statement that she had thrown out Diamond Members like plaintiffs out of the hotel. But being a Diamond Member is not related in any way to a person’s race. It is ostensibly a status afforded to hotel guests who, by virtue of frequent stays at a hotel, achieve a loyalty status that entitles them to various perks. The only inference to be drawn from the comment is that the employee had no issue throwing out guests who might ordinarily be afforded more attentive or special treatment from hotel staff. Plaintiffs’ allegations with respect to the racial discrimination aspect of the alleged events are too conclusory and do not state a cause of action under the NYCHRL (see id. [“Plaintiff’s allegations in this respect amount to mere legal conclusions, and do not suffice to make out this element of her claim.”]).

The Court recognizes, as plaintiffs point out, that it is often difficult to allege a racial discrimination claim. That is why inferences may be relied upon to make out a cause of action instead of pointing solely to overt acts. But nothing is alleged here (and the Court observes that nothing was included from the plaintiffs themselves in opposition) to suggest that defendants did or said anything based on plaintiffs’ race. Nothing was alleged about an interaction with a guest of a different race that could lead to the inference that plaintiffs were treated “less well” than other guests due to their race. No comments from defendants are included that touch on anything to do with plaintiffs’ race or lead to an inference about plaintiff’s race despite plaintiffs providing a very detailed account of what the front desk employee said during the interaction.

Based on this, the court concluded that “while the escalation of the dispute alleged here is concerning, and particularly the fact that the police were called, that alone does not state a cause of action for racial discrimination.”

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