ACLU Sues to Stop Pasco Auditorium from Discriminating Against Mexican-Americans

Affiliate: ACLU of Florida
January 8, 2010 12:00 am

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Venue Charges Higher Deposit Amounts to Latinos


DADE City, Fla. – The Greater Tampa Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida filed a federal lawsuit today against the Pasco County Fair Association and one of its employees, Virginia McKendree, on behalf of three Mexican-American women who were unlawfully charged higher deposit amounts for a reception hall based on their Latin-American ethnicity.

“The Fair Association charges deposits based on its biased perceptions about people of Mexican or Latin-American descent. When a bride is planning her wedding, she should be worrying about her dress, not prejudice due to her ethnicity,” said Rebecca Steele, ACLU of Florida cooperating counsel. “This practice is outwardly discriminatory, unlawful, and must be set right.”

The ACLU plaintiffs, two Mexican-American brides (Irma Maria Garcia and Irma Montelongo) and a Mexican-American woman planning a fiftieth wedding anniversary celebration (Araceli Corona), contacted the Fair Association about renting the Dan Cannon Auditorium. All three were told they had to pay a deposit of $1,500, even though similar “Anglos” were quoted deposit prices of only $1,000. The explanation? Mexicans made more messes and had to be charged more.

The difference became clear when a friend of two of the plaintiffs, Beatriz Fregoso, who has no discernable Spanish accent, was quoted a one-thousand dollar deposit price over the phone. But when Beatriz gave her Hispanic name, the deposit jumped to fifteen hundred dollars. When asked why the deposit amount had changed, Ms. McKendree stated that when “certain people” rent the hall, the fee is fifteen hundred dollars. When Ms. Fregoso asked if the “certain people” referred to Mexicans, Ms. McKendree – in an attempt to justify the higher deposit amount – made a racist generalization implying that Hispanics leave more damage and make bigger messes. Although Ms. Fregoso politely insisted on the original price, she was outraged.

“There is no telling how many others have been discriminated against by Ms. McKendree and the Pasco County Fair Association. The word has spread about these practices throughout the community in and around Pasco County, to the extent that members of the community have chosen to rent less attractive and less functional venues to avoid this discrimination,” said Paul Rebein, ACLU of Florida cooperating counsel. “This has been going on for years, and these brave women are standing up to say ‘no more.'”

This discrimination is not limited to wedding receptions. Araceli Corona, a U.S. citizen of Mexican descent and the third plaintiff in this case, was charged the higher deposit rate when she rented the Dan Cannon Auditorium in June of 2009 for a fiftieth wedding anniversary celebration. The auditorium also withheld deposit monies from Ms. Corona, as they did with Garcia.

Under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Florida Civil Rights Act, the lawsuit seeks declaratory and injunctive relief, compensatory and punitive damages, imposition of a fine, costs, and attorney’s fees, and all other relief the court deems just and proper.

Download a PDF of the Complaint filed in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida here:

Attorneys in Garcia v. Pasco County Fair Association include Rebecca Harrison Steele and Paul Rebein, ACLU of Florida cooperating attorneys, and Randall Marshall, ACLU of Florida Legal Director.

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