Opening defense: But it ain’t racism if they’re Whites, right?
That training on how not to be racist can’t come a moment too soon for the staff of the Grand Gateway Hotel in Rapid City. Several days before they signed a settlement with the Department of Justice to rid themselves of one federal discrimination lawsuit, the nefarious Uhre family business got hit with another civli rights lawsuit alleging that on August 13, 2023, the Grand Gateway refused lodging to a mixed-race couple from Wisconsin who had booked rooms online.
7. Plaintiff Ryan White is an individual residing in Lac du Flambeau, Wisconsin. He is married to Jessica White. Ryan White is Native American and a member of a protected class.
8. Plaintiff Jessica White is an individual residing in Lac du Flambeau, Wisconsin. She is married to Ryan White. Jessica White is not a member of a racially protected class.
17. The White family traveled from Wisconsin to South Dakota for a family vacation. The White family reserved three rooms for one night at the Grand Gateway online through the website Travelocity. Jessica and Ryan White were traveling with Ryan’s three children (who are Jessica’s step-children), Ryan White’s mother, and Ryan White’s aunt. At the time they reserved the rooms, the White family was unaware of Grand Gateway’s history of racial discrimination.
18. After driving all day, the White family arrived at the Grand Gateway at approximately 10 p.m. on August 13, 2023.
…21. Jessica White began the check-in process without any issue.
22. After parking the family’ car, Ryan White entered the Grand Gateway. The Grand Gateway employee stopped processing the White family’s reservation and abruptly told the Whites that they did not have any rooms reserved at the hotel.
23. Jessica White attempted to provide the Grand Gateway employee with their confirmation number from Travelocity. The Grand Gateway employee refused to take the confirmation number, look in the hotel’s system for the reservation, or take steps to honor the White family’s reservation.
24. The White family contacted Travelocity from the lobby of the hotel. A Travelocity representative confirmed that the White family had three rooms reserved at the Grand Gateway [White v. Retsel Corp., Complaint, U.S. District Court of South Dakota, filed 2023.10.25].
The hotel employee, whom the Whites say identified himself as the hotel manager and whom they thus deduce to be Nick Uhre, proceeded to underscore his racism by badmouthing the Travelocity employee who called the Grand Gateway to confirm the Whites’ reservation:
25. Travelocity called the Grand Gateway to confirm that the Whites had a reservation at the Grand Gateway. Despite Travelocity’s confirmation that the Whites had a reservation, the Grand Gateway employee still refused to rent rooms to them.
26. While the Grand Gateway employee was on the phone with the Travelocity representative, the White family heard the Grand Gateway employee tell the Travelocity representative—who spoke with an accent—that she needed to “speak English!” While not directed at the White family, that comment reinforced the unmistakably racial nature of the incident [Complaint, 2023.10.25].
The plaintiffs, represented by Brendan Johnson, Timothy Billion, and Thad Titze of the Sioux Falls office of Robins Kaplan, seek compensatory, general, special, and punitive damages.
The plaintiffs had to try three times to serve their summons and complaint on Chad Uhre. He wasn’t at the office the first two times Sandra White Shield popped in on October 28; when she finally caught him on October 31 (trick or treat!), Uhre apparently didn’t want Ms. White Shield piercing the white shield around the building and asked that she serve him in the parking lot.
One had to wonder if any amount of anti-discrimination training and well-worded inclusivity policies will get the Uhres to stop being racist jerks to people who just want to spend the night in South Dakota and enjoy our Land of Freedom.