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Baltimore discrimination lawsuit claims Saudi royals requested non-black drivers

Baltimore HotelsHotel and Accommodation Industry

Four former drivers for Baltimore-based ZBest Limousine have filed a federal lawsuit alleging the company and an international hotel chain discriminated against them by acquiescing to a staffing request from members of the Saudi royal family.

The four African-American men contend in the lawsuit filed July 10 that the Saudis were staying for an extended period of time at the InterContinental Harbor Court Baltimore in 2011 when the hotel's parent company at the time, International Hotels Group, contracted ZBest to provide transportation for the family.

The "lucrative, long-term" contract, the lawsuit alleged, came with the condition, requested by the Saudis, that their drivers not be black — resulting in a "reduction in work and compensation" for the men when they were excluded.

The four plaintiffs — Brentwood Graham and Charles Cockrell, both of Baltimore; Philip Shelton of Rosedale; and Ronnie Allen of Pasadena — claim a ZBest supervisor said it was an "industry standard" to comply with such client requests. They also say that dispatchers told them they were taken off the job specifically because they are black.

The men resigned from the company in 2011 and early 2012 because it "continued to use race-based preferences to make employment and contractual decisions," according to the lawsuit.

Kevin Pascale, an attorney for ZBest with Rosenberg Martin Greenberg, said Wednesday his client had not been served in the case but will "vigorously" defend against it.

"We don't comment on pending litigation, especially when the complaint hasn't been served, but I can assure you my client does not discriminate against anyone on any basis," Pascale said.

The Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Washington did not respond to multiple requests for comment. The lawsuit does not name members of the royal family by name.

Kristal McKanders, a spokeswoman for the InterContinental brand under IHG, said she could not immediately comment on the case, but that the InterContinental Harbor Court Baltimore no longer exists under the company.

The hotel on Light Street became the Royal Sonesta Harbor Court Baltimore in 2012.

Jay Holland, the men's attorney in the discrimination case, said he had no comment beyond what is included in the complaint. The men have requested a jury trial, and are seeking unspecified damages.

krector@baltsun.com

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Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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