A Baltimore couple who tried to book a room at the luxury Four Seasons Hotel Baltimore – and allegedly were told they “may be better off going to a Motel 6” – have filed a lawsuit saying they were essentially turned away because they were African American.
“What was to be a celebratory, joyous occasion turned out to be a horrible, humiliating experience,” according to the complaint that Antoine Newkirk and Tonya Jones recently filed in Baltimore Circuit Court.
The encounter took place on December 31, 2019, where Newkirk and Jones, both 21 at the time, had gone with hopes of experiencing a “very special” New Year’s Eve at the Harbor East establishment.
Newkirk had “saved his hard-earned money” to use on a stay “at a five-star, first class hotel, something that he and his girlfriend had never done,” according to the suit.
“They planned to go out to dinner, go to the fireworks at the Inner Harbor and then retire to spend the night in a luxurious room.”
The complaint, filed December 30, names the hotel’s corporate parent, Harbor East Parcel D-Hotel, trading as Four Seasons Hotel Baltimore.
Asked for a comment, attorney George J. Philippou, named as the company’s registered agent, has not yet provided a response.
The suit accuses the hotel of violating federal civil rights law and the Maryland Consumer Protection Act and seeks $75,000 in compensatory and punitive damages.
The landmark waterfront Four Seasons Hotel tower was developed by Harbor East Management Group, formed by the late H&S Bakery co-owner John Paterakis Sr. The building was later enhanced with penthouse condominiums that have fetched some of the highest sales prices in Baltimore.
The Atlas Restaurant Group, owned by the Paterakis family’s younger generation, has been criticized over the years amid multiple allegations of racial bias by Black customers.
In 2019, the group’s Choptank restaurant in Fells Point was denounced for a dress code that targeted Black customers. Its language was modified.
In 2020, the restaurant group was sued by a Black woman alleging discrimination after she and her son were refused service at its Ouzo Bay restaurant because of her son’s attire.
Video went viral showing how the boy was dressed, while a white child, dressed in similar athletic apparel, was allowed to dine at the restaurant.
The company maintained that the boy violated the posted restrictions, but eventually fired the managers involved and abolished the dress code for children.
Atlas operates The Bygone at the top of the Four Seasons Hotel and Maximón on the floor level.
In this case, the couple say that upon arriving at the hotel at about 7 p.m., a woman with a name tag that read “Hannah M” initially quoted them a $435 room rate and said the estimated total would be $511.13.
Then, the complaint says, Hannah M attempted to charge the card for $600 and informed Newkirk his debit card was declined.
Newkirk, who says he had $1,011 in his account, called his bank and put the phone on speaker.
“Mr. Newkirk was informed – with Hannah M listening – that Hannah M was entering the key code incorrectly,” the suit says.
Telling Mr. Newkirk his card was still not working, Hanna M went on to say “she did not feel comfortable continuing to try since she was concerned ‘that the card was stolen’ and that Mr. Newkirk ‘might be using someone else’s card.’”
Saying he would return with cash, Newkirk was told that would cost him an additional $300. Undaunted, he said he returned with $800 cash and presented $600.
That still was not enough for Hannah M, according to the complaint.
The hotel clerk expressed concern that Newkirk might be using someone else’s card.
She allegedly then told Newkirk she would have to check the cash “to make sure the money was not counterfeit,” and that he’d need to hand over an additional $300 because he was paying in cash.
That was when Hannah M allegedly said the couple “may be better off going to a Motel 6.” Fed up, Newkirk and Jones said they went home, forgoing the New Year festivities.
“It was very clear to Mr. Newkirk and his girlfriend that they were being charged an extra $300 because of their race as African Americans, given that the other patrons were Caucasian and were being waited on without incident,” the suit said.
Hannah M’s Motel 6 comment “was clearly intended to humiliate Mr. Newkirk and his girlfriend, make them feel out of place,” the suit added.