Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Mike Russell
The oldest private social club in Detroit, Detroit Club, is being sued for racial discrimination.
According to a federal lawsuit, former desk clerk Maria Victoria Ferrer, who is Latina , accused the 130-year-old club of mistreating Black guests, the Detroit Free Press reports. The lawsuit names the Detroit Club, owner Lynn Uralli, and Ferrer's supervisor Suzette Day. Ferrer is seeking an unspecified amount of punitive and compensatory damages.
Among the several accusations, Ferrer contests that the club used their dress code differently for Black patrons. She had a conflict with management when she allowed Black guests to check-in, who were staying overnight, who didn’t adhere to the business casual or better dress code. The lawsuit claims the dress code was not enforced for white guests staying overnight.
The Detroit Free Press reports Ferrer's supervisor approached the couple and the woman said she didn’t like the dress code. According to the lawsuit, the supervisor allegedly got in the woman’s face and said, “We have a dress code here and if you don't like it you can leave."
The lawsuit also stated: "The woman asked (the supervisor) to back away from her face to which (the supervisor) refused, responding that she was 'fine right here.'"
The couple asked to leave and requested a refund.
The following day, Ferrer told her supervisor that the actions "amounted to racial harassment." The supervisor advised her to speak with the owner.
Ferrer alleges co-owner Uralli told her "Do you think you're Black?" and said she "seemed defensive and sensitive about racial discrimination."
Additionally, the lawsuit alleges a bartender said that nonwhite guests were being "verbally" mistreated. There was also a rule that guests were not allowed to have more than two individuals in the room but Ferrer claimed she saw that rule enforced for Black guests, but not for white guests.
On April 23, the Detroit Tigers played a day game in Detroit, and Ferrer's supervisor said the club was being relaxed about the dress code. A Black couple entered the club out of dress code and Ferrer let them in.
Uralli allegedly said to Ferrerr, “Are they guests? So, you’re letting street rats come in?”
The lawsuit says the man heard the comment and told Uralli, telling her she lost a potential new member. There exists a Google Review from April that appears to be from the person who heard the “street rat” comment: “Racist owner do not recommend anyone staying. me and my girlfriend stepped in to use a restroom and the desk lady allowed us ... The owner of the hotel went to the desk lady ... saying street rats are not allowed ... I told her that was completely wrong ... and she didn't seem to care at all."
The Detroit Club argued with the Google review, writing:
"We are not sure why you felt the need to leave a bad review and a false description of events, and we take your accusations very seriously. We have talked with our team extensively and we have no record of you setting foot in our establishment and no one has experienced these events as you have described them. Also, the owner has been out of town at another property, so it’s not possible for you to have spoken with them. If you have a legitimate complaint, please call us."
Ferrer, who was hired March 17, says she was “abruptly” fired on April 23. The bartender who said he witnessed Black guests being treated differently resigned on April 25.
The lawsuit also accuses Uralli of sending threatening text messages to the bartender after he resigned. One message, which is on file in federal court, read, "I am going to destroy you. You have no idea what you started. ... You are a liar and you are insane and you are going to pay for the attempt of defaming my business."
Attorney Jack Schulz, who is representing Ferrer, said in statement, "Whether it's a private club, or a public market ... there’s no place for this type of racism or discriminatory treatment. The statements as portrayed by my client portray an egregious harassment based on race. And I hope that the Detroit Club analyzes their actions and changes their ways."
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