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Black man sues hotel, alleging he was profiled, berated by manager

San Francisco Chronicle logo San Francisco Chronicle 3/23/2021 By Michael Williams

A Black man has filed a lawsuit against an Alameda County hotel, saying he was discriminated against and berated by a manager while talking on the phone in the hotel’s parking lot during his stay there last year.

Dramaine Vinegar said he booked a three-night stay at the Fremont Marriott Silicon Valley last April with his fiancee. On the second-to-last day of his stay, Vinegar sat in his car in the hotel’s parking lot to make a phone call, according to the lawsuit.

Vinegar said a car pulled up behind him. A hotel manager, William Gheen, jumped out and told Vinegar to “Get the f— off the property,” according to the lawsuit, which names Gheen, Marriott International, and the hotel’s franchisee and management company, Fremont Hotel Operating Co. and Remington Hotels.

In an interview with The Chronicle, Vinegar said he told Gheen that he had a “motel” room. Gheen snapped back, “It’s a hotel, not a motel,” according to Vinegar and the lawsuit.

The pair continued to argue in the hotel’s lobby, in an interaction that Vinegar filmed with his cell phone.

“I’m a customer. I’ve been here for two nights. You got out your truck, and you told me to get the f— off of private property without even addressing me properly,” Vinegar tells Gheen in the video. When Vinegar asks Gheen for his name, the manager extends his middle finger while walking away, the video shows.

Marriott International referred questions about the lawsuit and the incident to the franchise company that manages the hotel. Remington Hotels did not respond to an email seeking comment. Lawyers who have represented the Fremont Hotel Operating Co. in previous cases did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

Phone numbers listed under Gheen’s name were disconnected. A person who answered the phone at the Fremont Marriott Silicon Valley said nobody with Gheen’s name currently works there.

While the video does not show Gheen using racial slurs, Vinegar told The Chronicle that he felt stereotyped from the beginning of their interaction. Had he been white, Vinegar said, he wouldn’t have been treated that way “in a million years.”

“I’m 100% certain if I was white, he wouldn’t have addressed me like that,” Vinegar said.

One of Vinegar’s lawyers, Jason Kafoury of Portland, Ore., said the incident represents what he described as “a pattern of white managers in hotels walking up to paying guests and racially profiling them to try to clear out lobbies and parking lots.”

Kafoury’s firm is involved in more than a dozen lawsuits involving hotels allegedly profiling Black guests.

Vinegar, who lives in San Jose, said he ended up checking out of the hotel that night. After he left a review describing the interaction, the hotel emailed him, offering a free room and asking him to reach out to their corporate office. By then, he had already contacted an attorney, Vinegar said.

Vinegar said he’s been subjected to “certain looks, certain stereotypes” as a Black man, but nothing as blatant as he experienced at the hotel. The lawsuit doesn’t specify damages, but Vinegar said he wants hotel managers to be screened for potential racial prejudices before they’re hired.

“For the most part, I’m hoping that people will understand that they have to treat all races the same,” he said.

Michael Williams is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: Twitter: @michaeldamianw


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