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Court upholds suit against hotel that refused to host black couple

Alfreda Keck made a determined effort to schedule her wedding reception at the Kensington Court Hotel, formerly known as the Crowne Plaza, in Ann Arbor.  Her tenacity, over a number of months, in attempting to schedule the event is recited in the Court's opinion in Keck v.  Graham Hotel Systems, Inc.  Somehow, the "Wedding Specialist" was never available to meet with Alfreda or her fiance, however, and never followed-up on their repeated messages and phone calls.  When the Kecks filed a complaint with the Fair Housing Center of Southeast Michigan,  the Wedding Specialist turned out to be more "available" and responsive to white couples than to black couples.  Kecks filed suit for discrimination.

In the trial court, Judge Robert Cleland heard all of the evidence and chalked it up to coincidence, bad timing, and "minor inconsistencies" in treatment.  The Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit unanimously rejected Cleland's holding, however, sending the case back to the lower court for trial. 

The appellate judges concluded that the Kecks presented ample circumstantial evidence of the hotel taking action against its own pecuniary interest to uphold a finding of racial animus.  The hotel had claimed that since it treated the Kecks with "courtesy," the Kecks could not prove racial hostility.  The Court dismissed this argument, noting that ample evidence of the hotel's actions "outside...widely accepted business norms" created a strong inference of illegal discrimination.  The subsequent investigation corroborated this inference.

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