"This group of plaintiffs is an admirable group," says their attorney David Cohen, who represented the Macedonia Church in the class-action suit against a Lancaster, Pennsylvania resort and golf club.
"I think the church leadership felt we better do something to demonstrate to our young people that there are ways to address these kinds of grievances and that there are legitimate ways to do it through the legal system rather than through other kinds of resentments," says Cohen.
In 2004, the church toured the Lancaster Host resort and made plans to book 40 rooms for a recreational getaway for the group. The resort sent them a contract with the wrong dates and the wrong number of rooms. When the church representatives contacted the hotel and tried to make changes, the Lancaster said unfortunately nothing was available.
They ended up in a hotel with an atmosphere not much different than where their church is located in South Norwalk.
The church's senior pastor, a veteran of the long struggles for equal rights for black Americans, suspected that racial discrimination was responsible for the group's disappointment.
"It was Reverend Stevens who did not let it pass," says Cohen. "He was very suspicious perhaps because of other like circumstances he had had in the past."
The Reverend enlisted a white friend at another church to call the resort and test the availability of the rooms. Her reservation was accepted, and when she called later to cancel, the resort called her back, inviting her to book again in the future. The Macedonian Church received no such similar follow-up calls.
"The discrimination in the case would have existed regardless, but without someone testing whether the rooms were available, that evidence would have been lost," says Cohen from the firm of Wofsey, Rosen, Kweskin & Kuriansky. "That made the difference in the case."
The Lancaster Resort is no longer in operation and the award was paid by its insurer.
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"There was a healthy dose of public service here. There was a component of the award that was devoted to attorney fees but the expenditure of time vastly outstripped the compensation that was available," says a very modest David Cohen, who admits he was surprised to see that such blatant discrimination can still exist. "We were stunned when the case first came to us."
David Cohen is a partner in Wofsey, Rosen, Kweskin & Kuriansky and is a graduate of the Yale School of Law. He has been involved in a number of civil rights and humanitarian projects, and helped resettle refugees from the former Soviet Union in the US. His practice focuses on civil rights, general litigation, and employment and labor litigation.