August 24, 2012
ZOA calls off Hotel Shangri-La protest after ‘concessions’ from owner
On Tuesday, Aug. 21, the Western Region of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) sent out a notice that it was planning a protest Sunday, Aug. 26, in front of the Hotel Shangri-La to “express outrage” following a recent jury decision that found the hotel and its owner had discriminated against a group of Jews in 2010.
On Friday morning, the ZOA announced that it had cancelled its planned protest after coming to an agreement with the hotel and its owner.
In a statement released on Aug. 24, Hotel Shangri-La President, CEO and part-owner Tehmina Adaya condemned anti-Semitism and declared her support for Israel, even as she reaffirmed her intent to appeal the jury’s decision and maintained that she had never made any discriminatory comments to any of the plaintiffs who brought the lawsuit.
Earlier this month, Adaya and the hotel were found to have violated the civil rights of 18 Jewish and non-Jewish plaintiffs when hotel staff, acting on Adaya’s instructions, significantly disrupted a pool party held by a pro-Israel group at the Hotel Shangri-La in July 2010.
After a 10-day civil trial, a jury in California Superior Court ordered the hotel and Adaya to pay the plaintiffs a combined $1.65 million in damages, statutory payments and punitive damages.
The hotel’s release on Friday also included an invitation from Adaya to “leaders of the Jewish and pro-Israel community” to attend a private event sometime in the next 12 months to be coordinated with the ZOA and hosted by the Shangri-La.
Adaya also announced donations of $3,600 each to two Israeli foundations, the Koby Mandell Foundation that supports Israeli victims of terror and the Zahal Disabled Veterans Organization, which supports wounded Israeli soldiers.
The ZOA announced the cancellation of the protest in a separate release circulated on Friday morning, moments after the hotel’s.
“The mere fear of a protest evoked these concessions,” Steve Goldberg, chairman of the ZOA’s Los Angeles region and its national vice chair, said. “We actually got something tangible, as opposed to a group of people walking in front of a hotel.”
“I care deeply about the hurt, anger and misunderstanding that has resulted and I want the Jewish and pro-Israel community to know I condemn anti-Semitism,” Adaya said in Friday’s statement. “I welcome diversity and never made disparaging comments to anyone who attended an event here.”
James Turken, the attorney who represented the plaintiffs in their successful lawsuit, called the hotel’s statement “clearly an effort at damage control” and “spin control.”
As an example, Turken pointed to the statement’s interpretation of the jury’s verdict. “While the jury found that the hotel did not have proper business protocols in place,” the statement read, “they did not claim or believe she made discriminatory comments to any of the plaintiffs.”
The jury unanimously decided in the cases of each of the 18 plaintiffs that the hotel and Adaya had violated the Unruh Civil Rights Act, and further found that in most cases, the hotel and its owner had acted maliciously.
The verdict made no comment about the hotel’s business protocols, and Turken called the hotel’s portrayal, “100 percent false.”
“There’s no way to spin the verdict as anything other than what it was,” Turken said. “All that one needs to do is look at the court record. This isn’t something you can hide.”
Asked how the hotel had come to that interpretation of the verdict, Miles Lozano, the director of PR/Marketing, wrote in an email, “None of the plaintiffs claimed to have heard any discriminatory comments, it was based on hearsay from a former disgruntled employee who did not show up in court to testify.”
That former employee, Nathan Codrey, had his deposition read into the record for the jury during the trial. A number of plaintiffs who testified during the trial said that they while they had not heard Adaya make discriminatory comments, Codrey had reported to them on the day of the event in 2010 that Adaya had instructed him to “Get the [expletive] Jews out of the hotel.” At the time, he was the hotel’s assistant food and beverage manager. He was terminated from his position shortly after the event.
The plaintiffs, who had nothing to do with the planning of the protest, were also not consulted by ZOA about the decision to cancel it.
“We’re not stopping anybody else,” the ZOA’s Goldberg said. “They can protest whatever they want.”
The complete text of both statements is below.
The Hotel Shangri-La’s: