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Hotel Discrimination Deal Could End

WASHINGTON - The head of the Justice Department's civil rights division has offered to consider recommending an end to an anti-discrimination settlement with the Adam's Mark hotel chain nearly two years early if he is impressed by year's end with the company's behavior.

Assistant U.S. Attorney General Ralph Boyd made the unusual offer after a meeting with hotel representatives who were seeking immediate changes to the agreement. The chain's owners, HBE Corp. of St. Louis, agreed to the settlement in 2000 to settle charges that its hotels treated black guests differently.

A Justice Department spokeswoman, Barbara Comstock, said late Wednesday that Boyd made no promises to the hotel's representatives other than to consider the matter at the end of the year.

"What he said was, at the end of the year, he would look at the matter again and look at the facts, look at the law ... and make a decision," Comstock said. "He did not say what his decision will be. They were arguing for modifying the consent decree or terminating it. He turned them down."

Comstock also noted that any modifications to the agreement, set to expire in November 2004, must be approved by a U.S. judge.

Under terms of the settlement, the Adam's Mark agreed to revise its policies and seek minority customers. The company also agreed to hire an outside firm to monitor any discrimination.

When the settlement was announced in March 2000, the Adam's Mark issued a statement saying that while "the company has never done anything wrong, we apologize for any actions that may have made any of our guests feel uncomfortable or unwelcome."

Five black vacationers sued the Adam's Mark, saying the hotel chain singled them out as security risks during the 1999 Black College Reunion and made them but not white guests wear orange wristbands to get into the hotel.

Black reunion guests also allegedly were charged more than other special-event guests and had to pay cash in full to reserve rooms. The Justice Department filed a separate lawsuit, saying there was a pattern of discrimination at the hotel chain.

The Washington Post, which first reported Boyd's offer in Thursday's editions, said that Fred S. Kummer Jr., the president of HBE Corp., contributed along with his family and employees $15,700 to Ashcroft's 1994 and 2000 U.S. Senate campaigns before he became attorney general.

The newspaper also said that Ashcroft, when he was Missouri's governor, appointed Kummer to the University of Missouri Board of Curators, and that Kummer attended Ashcroft's daughter's wedding.

Boyd said in a statement Wednesday that he had not discussed the situation with Ashcroft.

"The attorney general and his office have had no involvement in the case at all, either directly or indirectly," Boyd said. "The decision at issue made by me in this case, which was to take no action, but only to monitor the situation for compliance with a consent decree, was my decision, and mine alone."

The Post said Kummer had boasted about his ties with Ashcroft to lawyers representing the plaintiffs. It quoted Paul Hancock, Florida's deputy state attorney general, and John Relman, who represented the individual plaintiffs, as saying Kummer told them he would get better treatment from the department under Ashcroft than what he received under former Attorney General Janet Reno.


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