Discrimination Lawsuit Filed Against Seminole Inn

By Camaron Abundes   
NewsWest 9

SEMINOLE- The Seminole Inn was named in a civil rights lawsuit that was filed Monday in an Austin Courthouse. The suit outlines blatant discrimination including racial slurs and remarks, made by an employee of the Inn and states a clerk refused to honor a reservation made by an African American family, based on race.

Gwenda Gault, her fiance Kenneth Gibson, and Danny Johnson are listed on the lawsuit. The family traveled with other family members to a family reunion in Seagraves, TX for the Juneteenth celebration. Juneteenth commemorates June 19th the day African Americans in Texas learned of President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, two years after the civil war ended.

Gault says she booked several rooms at the Seminole Inn, because the Inn's web site advertised a pool and an employee assured her it would be open in June when she booked in May. Gault says when they arrived a man began harassing the family, calling them (expletive) and telling them they could not stay at the hotel.

"I just felt helpless," Kenneth Gibson said at a press conference in Austin.

At the end of an eight hour drive from Taylor, near Austin, the family says they could not believe how they were treated.

"He said well ma'am, I can't rent you these rooms. And I am going wait? I've got kids outside, we came eight hours. You know I have my elderly aunt outside, my mom. I said what do you mean you can't rent us these rooms, we're tired, you know. He said no, I can't rent these rooms to you," Gault said to reporters on Monday.

The lawsuit says a man, who appeared to be taking care of the Seminole Inn grounds, walked up to the family when they pulled into the parking lot at 2200 Hobbs Highway in Seminole, TX.

"This guy approached the van, talking about you (expletive) can't stay here," Gault recalled.

Gault told reporters the man followed her into the lobby where she told the desk clerk what he said and that she had a reservation with a confirmation number from a month prior to making the trip.

"It is blatantly illegal to discriminate somebody by race and to refuse to rent based on skin color." Wayne Krause, VAWA director of the Texas Civil Rights Project. The Texas Civil Rights Project staff helped the family file the lawsuit on Monday.

The lawsuit also outlines a claim that the Seminole Inn also used deceptive business practices that mislead the family to believe they had a working pool. When the family showed up, not only were they not allowed to rent a single room, the pool area was marked off with caution tape.

NewsWest 9 tried to contact the manager but he refused to comment over the phone or gave only the first name of Henry. Later Newswest 9 entered the lobby at the Seminole Inn and asked to speak to the manager.

Henry Shah, the General Manager, declined to comment but did inadvertently answer a question.

He said his employees never refused to honor the family's reservation based on race. A short time later, Newswest 9 contacted the hotel again by telephone. Shah told Newswest 9, the man who allegedly accosted Gault, Gibson, Johnson and their family was only a guest.

"It seems weird that that stuff is still happening around here." Trini Perez said while pumping gas at a local gas station.

"It's wrong. I wouldn't just let it go." Nancy Penner, who was a former employee of the Seminole Inn, said.

The Seminole Appraisal District lists the Yamunaji LLC. along with Dilip and Lina Patel, under its tax records. A representative from the Appraisal District says it is not clear if they are the owners or managers of the property, but the couple lists the hotel as their home address.

The lawsuit names Lewis W. Wilkerson, of Littlefield as the "Registered Agent."

The Appraisal District representative says the registered agent is the person who handles business transactions.

Wayne Krause, with the Texas Civil Rights Project says they anticipate that during the course of the lawsuit the owner of the Seminole Inn will come forward.

NewsWest 9 could not reach Lewis Wilkerson or the Patels.

Hotel management will have 30 days to respond to the lawsuit, once it is served in the next few days.

Gault says the family spent several hours looking for a hotel after they were refused a room at the Seminole Inn, back in June. They went to several towns before finding a hotel with available rooms in Hobbs, New Mexico.

The family is suing for actual damages, punitive damages, attorneys' fees, and for the hotel to properly train its employees to avoid discriminating against future customers.