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Greater Boston Church of God In Christ v. Raynham

Superior Court of Massachusetts, Suffolk

May 5, 2016

GREATER BOSTON CHURCH OF GOD IN CHRIST, Plaintiff,
v.
HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS MIDDLEBORO RAYNHAM, et. al, Defendants

          MEMORANDUM OF DECISION AND ORDER ON DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          Robert L. Ullmann, Justice

         The defendants, Holiday Inn Express Middleboro Raynham (the " Middleboro Holiday Inn" or " hotel"), Prana Lodging, LLC, and BV Hospitality Inc. (collectively, " Defendants"), moved for summary judgment on the public accommodation discrimination claim of the plaintiff, Greater Boston Church of God in Christ (the " Church"), pursuant to G. L. c. 272, § 98 and G. L. c. 151B, § § 4 and 5. The Court heard oral argument on March 23, 2016. For the below reasons, the Defendants' motion is ALLOWED.

         RELEVANT FACTS

         The following facts are undisputed, except to the limited extent noted herein. Prana Lodging, LLC is the owner and operator of the Middleboro Holiday Inn. SOF 2.[1] Sometime between September and November 2010, the Church through its Pastor Ivan Cutts began renting the meeting room at the hotel for Sunday services. SOF 5, 18. The Church describes itself as part of the largest Black Pentecostal organization in America, SOF 46, and for purposes of this motion Defendants do not dispute that all or most of the Church's members in 2010-2011 were African-American.

         Chrissane Tyrell, the hotel's director of sales and marketing, first charged the Church $50 for each use of the room, then increased the price to $100 for each use. SOF 17, 19. Pastor Cutts had no problem with the $100 price, because it was equal to, or less than, what the Church had paid for to rent space over the previous 20 years. SOF 19, 20.

         Before February 2011, members of the Church had only one negative interaction with hotel staff. SOF 21, 22. On this one occasion, Pastor Cutts's wife saw a male employee at the front desk who " did not seem happy that the Church was there. I did not know what the problem was, he just sort of was, like, giving kind of dirty looks, even though I'm saying hi, how are you, he was sort of standoffish... And I think maybe he's having a bad day, that happens." SOF 22. Ms. Cutts believes that the employee made a negative comment, but cannot recall what it was. SOF 22. Neither Ms. Cutts nor Pastor Cutts complained to anyone at the hotel about the one employee. SOF 24.

         During the time that the Church rented the meeting room, hotel staff received multiple verbal complaints from guests about the high level of noise coming from the Church's services, specifically related to loud singing. SOF 25. Hotel staff informed Pastor Cutts on or shortly before February 11, 2011 that the " noise interfered with sleeping guests." SOF 26, 55.

         Between January and March, the hotel rents guest rooms to construction work crews. SOF 27. Workers share these guest rooms, and those who work overnight shifts sleep in the rooms during the day. Id.

         The hotel's busiest wedding season runs from spring through fall. SOF 28. During this time period, the hotel gives preference to groups who book a minimum number of hotel guest rooms. SOF 28, 31. There were multiple weddings and other events at the hotel between September and November 2010, when the Church began renting the meeting room there. SOF 28, 31, 52-54.

         Early in 2011, Pastor Cutts raised with Tyrell the possibility of the Church booking the meeting room throughout 2011. SOF 29. Tyrell explained that the hotel wanted to keep the meeting room unrented during the busy season between spring and fall, so that the hotel could minimize noise disturbance to other guests by putting the wedding party guests over the meeting room, and have the meeting room available for wedding party guests who stayed at the hotel. SOF 31.

         In the first half of February 2011, Tyrell confirmed to Pastor Cutts that the Church could rent the meeting room on February 20, 2011 and March 20, 2011, but indicated that thereafter the meeting room would not be available for the rest of the year. SOF 33, 48-50.

         Records produced by Defendants confirm that the hotel rented blocks of rooms for large parties including multiple weddings throughout the spring and summer of 2011. SOF 35; Ex. 24-25. The Church notes, however, that the records do not reflect rental or use of the meeting room by many of these parties. Id.

         Pastor Cutts does not deny that, as described above, Tyrell told him about the work crews renting rooms above the meeting room, and that the hotel uses the meeting room during its wedding season as an amenity for guests who book blocks of rooms. SOF 34. However, Pastor Cutts believes that these purported reasons were pretexts. Id. The Church also points to emails in which Tyrell and the hotel's general manager used the term " moochers" to describe Church members whom they believed were eating the Sunday breakfast buffet without paying for it, and described their dealings with the Church as a " royal pia." [2]

         In April 2011, the Church filed a complaint of public accommodation racial discrimination against Defendants with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (" MCAD"). Ex. 9. The MCAD dismissed the Church's complaint in June 2013, based upon a finding of lack of probable cause. Id. The Church appealed, and the MCAD affirmed the lack of probable cause finding in October 2013. Ex. 11. Thereafter, the Church filed the Complaint in this case.

         DISCUSSION

         A. The ...


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