Two customers of hotel awarded $475,000 each for denial of equal services under West Virginia state public accommodation law

Erik Taylor and James Turner sought long term rentals at a hotel to work on a local pipeline project in West Virginia. When Taylor called the hotel to inquire about long term apartment rooms, he was told they were available, only to be told the opposite by manager Cindy Kay Adams when he arrived. She falsely told him that there was a waiting list for those rooms, and he would have to pay the higher short term rental fee. When white workers who were hired after Taylor were given long term rooms, Taylor asked Adams about this, and she lied to him by saying that they were before him on the waiting list. Taylor asked to speak to the general manager, Cindy Johnso,n who informed him that there was no waiting list for the long term rooms. Adams insisted there was a waiting list, but shortly afterwards Taylor was given a long term room; his interactions with Adams remained contentious during his stay at the hotel.


Like Taylor, Turner was told there was a waiting list for long term apartment rooms and was made to pay the higher short term rate. He was not given a long term room until one month after his arrival at the hotel even though white workers who were hired after him were provided such accommodations.


Taylor & Turner sued the hotel under the West Virginia public accommodations law, the West Virginia Human Rights Act, W. Va. Code § 5-11-9(6)(A), and after a jury trial, each of them was awarded $457,000 in damages. Those awards were upheld on appeal by the West Virginia Supreme Court and deemed not to be excessive. McClure Mgmt., LLC v. Taylor, 849 S.E.2d 604 (W. Va. 2020).


It did not matter that the hotel eventually provided them with long term rooms; the temporary withholding was enough to establish a violation of the statute, as was the provision of false information about the availability of such accommodations. The Court noted that "rudeness is [not] sufficient to prove a prima facie case of discrimination" but may be considered along with other facts to show a prima facie case. Plaintiffs were denied long term accommodations for a significant period of time; they were denied accommodations given to white customers.


The Court found that damage awards should be set aside only if "they are monstrous, enormous, at first blush beyond all measure, unreasonable, outrageous, and manifestly show jury passion, partiality, prejudice or corruption" (citing Addair v. Majestic Petroleum Co., Inc., 232 S.E.2d 821, 824 (W.Va. 1977)), and none of those things was the case here. Rather, the amounts chosen by the jury were appropriate given the jury instructions that it could award damages for "emotional distress, upset, humiliation, and embarrassment, and impairment to reputation."