Denver Update

HSS Responds to the NAACP-Adam’s Mark Dispute

We write to bring you up to date on distressing developments pertaining to the litigation between the NAACP and the HBE Corporation, the corporate parent of the Adam’s Mark Hotel chain. As some of you know, the HSS contracted with Adam’s Mark in 1997 to handle our 2001 annual meeting in Denver.

This history of this imbroglio goes back to 1999, when five African Americans filed a class action law suit against Adam’s Mark, alleging that their civil rights had been violated during a stay at an Adam’s Mark hotel in Daytona Beach, Florida, during the Black College Reunion in 1999. Specifically, the plaintiffs claimed that they were obliged to prepay for rooms and amenities; wear non-detachable, neon-orange identification wristbands; and enter the hotel through barricades staffed by a heavy police presence. The plaintiffs also alleged that the hotel refused to allow its African American guests to unload their luggage in its covered entryway and refused to rent to them anything but the most basic rooms, reserving its better rooms for employees and police officers staying at the hotel. The suit was joined by the local chapter of the Urban League, the Florida Attorney General’s office, and the NAACP. The NAACP called for a boycott of the hotel chain. In December 1999, the U.S. Department of Justice filed its own suit against the chain. In March 2000, the HBE Corporation reached a settlement with the Department of Justice that both the NAACP and other plaintiffs declared satisfactory. While admitting no wrong-doing, the company agreed to pay a total of $8 million. Roughly half of that sum was to go to guests at the Daytona Beach hotel during the Black College Reunion weekend and half to scholarships, diversity training, and legal fees. The NAACP, for its part, dropped its call for a boycott against the hotel chain.

Late last year, the federal judge hearing the original class action case against HBE refused to accept the settlement arranged between the hotel and the U.S. Department of Justice on a technicality, the finding being that the settlement could not be certified for class action treatment. Consequently, the lawsuit brought against HBE by the private plaintiffs and the state of Florida remains pending with a trial scheduled for November 2001. The NAACP is now accusing the hotel chain of not negotiating in good faith to come up with another solution and has reinstated its call for a boycott. The boycott began on 11 August

The only encouraging sign is a statement from Fred Kummer, president of HBE, who is adopting a more conciliatory stance than in the past. On August 6th, in a press release, Kummer said that he was "hopeful that he and Mr. Kweisi Mfume, president of the NAACP, will both reach out to find common ground before the November trial date. ‘I feel we serve all of America by looking for ways to work together, rather than trying to beat the other fellow into submission.’"

The breakdown of the settlement and the NAACP’s renewed call for a boycott of Adam’s Mark pose difficult choices for HSS. The Executive Committee invited advice from the Committee on Meetings and Programs a year and a half ago, at the time when the NAACP issued its original call for a boycott. After reviewing the HSS contract with the Adam’s Mark, the plaintiff’s suit, public statements by the HBE Corporation, the Justice Department, and other parties to the litigation, with Adam’s Mark, CoMP said: "The CoMP is unanimous in our support for our current stated policy that the HSS will not utilize any facilities which practice discrimination based on race, sex, age, handicap, sexual orientation or preference, or religion. The difficulty, in this case, lies in how to interpret and apply the wording and intent of our policy."

The announcement of a settlement (the one that has now fallen apart) followed on the heels of CoMP’s review. Hence, neither the Executive Committee nor Council had to confront the question of contract cancellation. Some organizations that had scheduled meetings in Adam’s Mark hotels during the period of the first NAACP boycott did decide to cancel or move their meetings. Others (including some federal agencies) did not. Many of you know that the Organization of American Historians, scheduled to meet in the St. Louis Adam’s Mark in March 2000, opted to shift its meetings to other locations in St. Louis. Adam’s Mark subsequently sued the OAH for damages arising from its alleged breach of contract, a suit that is still pending.

We now face again the question that CoMP raised in the communication quoted above. How do we interpret and apply our policy to the case before us? All members of the Executive Committee take the charges against Adam’s Mark seriously. Yet the charges have not been adjudicated, the company steadfastly insists that it is innocent of racial discrimination, and even the NAACP was willing to accept a settlement that entailed no admission of wrong-doing. We also take note of the obligations that we incur when signing a contract. We have given our word to Adam’s Mark, and it ought not be broken casually. Were Adam’s Mark to be found guilty of practicing racial discrimination, we might arguably be free to cancel our contract with them since that contract includes a clause informing Adam’s Mark of the HSS policy against using facilities that practice racial (and other forms) of discrimination:

"The History of Science Society reserves the right to cancel this contract if the city of Denver or the state of Colorado enacts any law restricting the rights of any citizen of the United States. Specifically, the Society will not utilize any facilities which practice discrimination based on race, sex, age, handicap, sexual orientation or preference, or religion."

But our contract with Adam’s Mark includes no provision that allows us to cancel without penalty on the basis of an allegation of such discrimination.

We are also aware of the fiduciary responsibilities that officers of the Society have. Unilateral cancellation of our contract with Adam’s Mark would impose damages on the HSS in excess of $130,000, exclusive of legal fees.

Members should know that the HSS Executive Director, Jay Malone, at the direction of the Executive Committee, consulted an attorney specializing in hotel contracts to frame language that we shall seek to have entered into future contracts so as to afford us greater latitude in cases of this sort. As a result of that consultation, we have incorporated the following language into our contracts with the hotels that will be serving us in Boston (2003) and Austin (2004):

"This Contract is,.. subject to termination for cause without liability to the terminating party,.. [if] formal charges filed against the Hotel and/or its parent firm, with any court or governmental body alleging violation of any anti-discrimination statute, including but not limited to charges of discrimination on the basis of race, sex, age, disability, religion, national origin, sexual orientation or preference by any of these entities shall be considered an emergency making it unreasonable, or impossible to provide the facilities or to hold the meeting."

Last year, Malone also informed upper management of the Adam’s Mark that respect for the rights of all persons was essential if HSS were to have future dealings with their company. The Executive Committee believes it is appropriate to reiterate this warning to Adam’s Mark.

When this problem first surfaced back in December 1999, the HSS repeatedly expressed grave concern to the Denver hotel about the accusations. In response to these concerns and our observation that the Department of Justice had joined the suit, the hotel drafted an addendum to our contract, subsequently signed by both parties, that stated the following:

"The parties acknowledge that the U.S. Department of Justice has filed suit against the Adam’s Mark Hotels and HBE Corporation seeking injunctive relief on behalf of patrons who allege that they were discriminated against based on race ("DOJ Lawsuit"). If at any time prior to November 7, 2001 it is determined by the court in the DOJ Lawsuit that the Adam’s Mark Hotels or HBE Corporation illegally discriminated against patrons at its hotels based on race, the History of Science Society shall have the right to cancel this Agreement."

As was stated above, the suit was settled and then thrown out by the Federal Court in Florida. The DOJ, separating itself from the suit, entered a revised settlement agreement, which can be found at

The purposes of the settlement can be found on page 2, under roman numeral II; the nondiscrimination provisions are on page 4, under roman numeral VI. Malone has spoken with the DoJ’s attorney of record on this case, Je Yon Jung, who assured him that the DoJ is satisfied that the hotel chain is following the provisions of the agreement, which has been in place for approximately 9 months. Project Equality, based in Kansas City, is monitoring compliance. Members should know that because of confidentiality agreements, Project Equality will not be able to testify in the pending suit set for trial this November.

Given the situation, the officers of the Society, including both Executive Committee and Council, have decided that we will meet in Denver at the Adam’s Mark Hotel. However, because this is a dispute that the HSS takes seriously, the officers are continuing to explore ways of highlighting the continuing problems of racism in society. Members should also know that, as is our custom, we will list on our Web site alternative housing arrangements.

Finally, members may also be interested in learning that the American Academy of Religion will be holding its meeting in the Adam’s Mark, the week after the HSS meets. The AAR’s response to the boycott may be found at

We share the sentiments expressed in the AAR’s principles:

Although the boycott has cast a shadow over our annual meeting, the Society has tried to meet its moral and legal obligations, and we hope that our members will join us in Denver to foster the continued growth of the history of science community.

18 September 2001 | Contact HSS | Contact the Web Editor | Return Home
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