WILSON, N.C. -- A Black family has filed a federal lawsuit against the parent company of Hampton Inn and others after the family said a North Carolina clerk called police on them over a billing dispute two years ago.
Delores Corbett was seeking clarification on a billing error for her prepaid room at the end of the family's stay in November 2018 when a female employee loudly told her that her credit card had been declined, The Wilson Times reported, citing the lawsuit, which was filed Thursday.
“The employee then loudly repeated ‘Your credit card was declined!’ Mrs. Corbett asked the employee to stop making the comment, to which the employee continued to loudly repeat ‘Your credit card was declined,’” the lawsuit said.
The suit said the employee in the central North Carolina city of Wilson refused to verify the prepayment and Corbett asked to speak to a supervisor. The employee then shouted “Get off my property" and called the police, according to the lawsuit.
The complaint said Corbett interrupted her husband’s breakfast to rush him and their 16-year-old son to their van over concerns about "how law enforcement would respond toward the African-American males of the family.” She said the family left the hotel so quickly that it left some items behind.
“Unless you are an African American who understands what it means when a police officer comes on the scene and when someone irrational calls them, it’s a 50/50 chance of how this thing is going to go down,” Corbett said.
“And for me, I was extremely afraid," she said. “I told her that we didn’t want any trouble, that we were checking out anyway, that there was no reason to call the police, but when you talk about that fear, it’s something that is hard to describe. But it is something that is at the deepest core of your being.”
When police officers arrived, they asked the Hampton Inn employee if the Corbetts had paid for their rooms. According to the lawsuit, she “acknowledged that the rooms were paid.”
Officers escorted the family from the hotel and suggested that they call the corporate office, the lawsuit said. As the family left, the lawsuit states that the police followed them closely to a restaurant parking lot and circled their car several times as the family waited for other family members who were still at the hotel.
Delores Corbett told a Hilton representative in December 2018 of the incident, the lawsuit said, noting that the representative recommended that she just “move on.”
Hilton spokesman Nigel Glennie said the company has “zero tolerance for racism and discrimination," but declined comment on the lawsuit. Glennie said Hilton's records indicated its representatives worked to resolve the complaint.
Also named in the lawsuit are Hilton Franchise Holding and Patco Lodging of Wilson, which owns the hotel property. The suit asks for a jury trial and for a declaratory judgment finding the defendants’ actions violate the Civil Rights Act.
Last month, a worker at a Hampton Inn in Williamston was fired after she called police on a Black woman and her child who were guests there and swimming in the pool. The worker had questioned whether the woman and her children were guests at the hotel, which is about 50 miles (80 kilometers) east of Wilson.