Racial discrimination allegation leads to settlement with local establishment

What was intended to be a “Sweet Sixteen” birthday party at the American Legion Post 76 in Jamaica Plain turned into a settlement leading to new anti-discrimination policies, according to a press release.

The Jamaica Plain Post No. 76 Inc. of The American Legion has agreed to adopt anti-discrimination policies and pay $15,000 to resolve allegations of racial discrimination against patrons and vendors at the birthday party. Post 76 will also host an event and sponsor a program for students at English High School.

The allegations specifically stated that African-American party guests and vendors were discriminated against based on their race by harassment, derogatory language, and by ending the party early.

According to the Attorney General’s (AG) Office, in January of 2015 an African-American woman reserved event space for her daughter’s “Sweet Sixteen” birthday party to be held in June 2015. When her event planners arrived at the venue, a bartender questioned them about the event and initially refused to host the party, saying that those who attended the party—presumably African-American teenagers—could be “gang members” and might “get drunk and shoot the place.”

The staff eventually agreed to host the event, but kept the event space open to the rest of the building instead of closing it off as they normally would because of purported safety concerns.

The AG’s Office further alleges that when an African-American photographer arrived, he was stopped by the same bartender, who suggested he might be carrying a gun and required him to open his bags so they could be inspected. Throughout the night, Post 76 staff were also overheard making derogatory comments about the African-American guests. Post 76 then allegedly ended the party early.

“This action resolves allegations that guests were treated as suspect and subjected to ignorant and racially discriminatory comments,” said AG Maura Healey, according to the press release. “No one in Massachusetts should be discriminated against based on their race and we need to continue to find ways to reject and end both explicit and implicit bias in all its forms. I am especially pleased that the Post, in addition to taking steps to implement better policies and train its staff, will also give back to the community by supporting local youth at English High.”

According to the terms of the settlement, Post 76 will adopt a comprehensive anti-discrimination policy and require all staff and volunteers to attend training on state and federal public accommodation laws.

Post 76 will also host an annual event for the English High School Boston School Cadets Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program, and sponsor students to attend the American Legion Boys and Girls State leadership programs. A total of $15,000 will be paid in restitution to the family that rented the event space and penalties to the Commonwealth.

The AG’s Office alleges that Post 76 violated the Massachusetts Public Accommodations Law and Consumer Protection Act. The Public Accommodations Law makes it unlawful for any business that solicits or accepts the patronage of the general public to distinguish among customers on the basis of their race, color, national origin, ancestry, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, or disability. The law prohibits discrimination with respect to both admission into and treatment within places of public accommodation. The Consumer Protection Act prohibits unfair or deceptive conduct in trade or commerce.

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