Black family sues Hilton after white clerk calls police over billing dispute

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WILSON, N.C. — A Black family has sued Hilton and a North Carolina Hampton Inn franchisee, alleging discrimination after a white clerk called police regarding a billing dispute.

Dolores and Alvin Corbett, along with their two teenagers, checked in to The Hampton Inn & Suites on Nov. 23, 2018, in Wilson, North Carolina, along with some extended family.

According to a news release provided by attorney Jason Kafoury, the family was there to “celebrate the life” of Alvin Corbett’s mother, Fannie Corbett, who died in 2019 and was declared a “civil rights pioneer” in North Carolina, The News & Observer reported.

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The following morning, the suit alleges, the unidentified clerk loudly and repeatedly told Dolores Corbett that her credit card had been declined. Corbett tried to explain that she had prepaid for the $145-per-night room using her Hilton Honors account points, but when she asked to speak to a supervisor, the clerk shouted, “Get off my property” and alerted police.

Dolores Corbett told USA Today the humiliation and degradation suffered warranted the lawsuit, but the clerk’s summoning of police “put our family in imminent danger.”

The family checked out immediately and told officers they had done nothing wrong when they arrived. And even though the clerk conceded to the responding officers that the billing question had been resolved, the suit alleges the officers escorted the Corbett family from the premises and circled their car in a restaurant parking lot while they waited for their extended family to join them, USA Today reported.

Meanwhile, the Corbetts’ attorneys shared with the publication an email from the hotel’s general manager, Phil Ronaghan, dated one day after the 2018 incident, offering his “sincerest apologies” and calling the clerk’s actions “unprofessional and unwarranted.”

Ronaghan also said in the email the unnamed clerk said she called police because she felt threatened, but he did not feel the situation rose to “anywhere near that level of dispute” and noted that she had been reassigned pending an internal review of the incident, USA Today reported.

In response, Hilton spokesman Nigel Glennie told the newspaper, “Hilton’s records show that our guest assistance team worked to resolve this complaint in 2018. We believe that our Hilton team engaged with sensitivity to understand, listen and address concerns about the guest’s experience.”

According to The News & Observer, the suit seeks damages to compensate for the plaintiffs’ “economic loss, humiliation, embarrassment and emotional distress” as well as punitive damages that would punish the defendants’ alleged “willful, wanton, and reckless conduct” to prevent similar incidents in the future.