The Santa Monica hotel owner recently found liable by a jury for dozens of counts of anti-Semitic discrimination has issued a press release in which she claims she deplores anti-Semitism. Not only that, but, to replay one of her losing defenses at trial, some of her best friends are Jews. And, she claims, she never did or said the things the jury determined she did.
On August 15, the jury in a discrimination lawsuit returned a verdict against Tehmina Adaya, owner of the Shangri-La Hotel in Santa Monica, finding that she had repeatedly violated the California Civil Rights Act and committed various other acts of discrimination against a group of 18 plaintiffs. The plaintiffs had attended a July, 2010 Friends of the IDF charity fundraiser for a program that sends to summer camp the children of Israeli soldiers who were killed while serving. That charity event was held at the pool area of the Shangri-La Hotel.
According to sworn testimony presented at trial, when the hotel owner saw the FIDF banner and literature, she shouted, “get those [expletive] Jews out of my pool,” at which point her staff forced everyone in the pool with a blue FIDF wristband to get out, took down the FIDF banners and literature, and attempted to remove from the premises all of those attending the pro-Israel charity event.
The Western Region ZOA office planned a public protest to take place on August 26th, in front of the Shangri-La Hotel. The protest was planned, according to Orit Arfa, executive director of that ZOA office, as part of the ZOA’s mandate – “to take stands against anti-Zionism.”
In response to publicity about the protest, a representative for Shangri-La spoke with ZOA leadership. When Adaya agreed to issue a public statement condemning anti-Semitism, announcing donations to two Israeli charities, and hosting a future ZOA pro-Israel event at her hotel, the protest was called off.
“I care deeply about the hurt, anger and misunderstanding that has resulted and I want the Jewish and pro-Israel community to know I condemn anti-Semitism,” Adaya wrote in her press release. She continued, “I pride myself on having close Jewish friends and senior staff, employees representing 12 countries, and we welcome guests from around the world. While I regret I didn’t publicly address this sooner given my belief in my innocence, I support Israel and seek to enhance relationships with people of all backgrounds.”
In addition to sharing what she described as her “sensitivity to Jewish groups and Israel,” Adaya, a jet-setting, multi-millionaire, announced she was donating $3600 each to two Israeli charities, the Koby Mandell Foundation, which supports victims of terrorism, and the Zahal Disabled Veterans Organization.
James Turken, the plaintiffs’ lawyer in the discrimination lawsuit, was not moved by Adaya’s efforts. Although Adaya spent much of her release extolling her sensitivities and trumpeting her donations, she also claimed she had not said and done what the jury determined was the case. What’s more, she mischaracterized what the jury said and found in a way that, at least for legal experts, goes beyond mere spin.
According to her statement, Adaya “never made any disparaging comments to anyone who attended an event here.” That’s true, but no one claimed she had. In fact, on the day the Jews were rounded up and removed from her pool, and throughout the hours-long effort to salvage the event, Adaya refused to talk to or meet with the plaintiffs and only dealt with them through her intermediaries.
But of greater concern to Turken was Adaya’s public relations claim that “While the jury found that the hotel did not have proper business protocols in place, they did not claim or believe she made discriminatory comments to any of the plaintiffs.”
Turken told The Jewish Press: “This is an effort at spin control that ignores reality. The entire proceeding is a public record, as are the verdicts. The jury found multiple violations of the Unruh Act – that is a civil rights act which can only be violated by acts of discrimination. Further, the jury awarded treble damages which are only triggered when there is a finding that a defendant’s actions were “particularly reprehensible.” In addition, Turken explained, “the award of punitive damages was only legally permissible because the jury found Adaya had acted with malice, oppression and fraud.”