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Jury Said Hotel Owner Is Anti-Semitic, But She Insists: ‘Some of My Best Friends Are Jewish’


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.”

Miles Lozano, the (Jewish) Shangri-La Hotel public relations manager, stressed in a telephone call with The Jewish Press that “much of the trial focused on the business policies of the hotel.”  When asked how the jury could have found violations of the California Civil Rights Act and found that Adaya was liable for numerous counts of intentional infliction of emotional distress – a tort with very strict standards – for mere business protocol irregularities, Lozano’s response is that the Unruh Act is an “umbrella act and not specifically about anti-Semitism.”

Lozano repeatedly stressed that the hotel is going to partner with ZOA in an event it will host.  He explained to The Jewish Press that the steps Adaya is taking are intended to address the Shangri-La’s public relations issues, whereas the court case dealt only with the legal issues.

The ZOA is now dealing with some negative fallout from their decision to cancel the protest, with some claiming that their decision gives Adaya “Jewish cover” for her actions.  But Arfa said that Adaya’s public statement condemning anti-Semitism was “instructive about the power of Jewish activism.”  The hotelier had never made a public statement like that before, and her donations to Israeli organizations and offer to host a pro-Israel ZOA event in the future was important.  The ZOA’s public statement about their decision included the following:

Although, based on a finding of clear and convincing evidence, the jury held that Ms. Adaya and the Hotel acted with malicious intent in evicting the group of Jewish young professionals, we believe that her statement exhibits the Jewish value of teshuva, repentance. Thus, the main purpose of the protest, which was to express outrage at anti-Semitism as well as Jewish pride, has been sufficiently addressed. We look forward to working with the Hotel to hold a Jewish community event that also expresses Jewish pride and support for Israel.

When asked whether, in his opinion, Adaya had done “teshuva,” as indicated in the ZOA’s press release calling off the planned protest, Turken was pointed: “In my personal opinion, Adaya feels remorse, but her remorse is not for her egregious conduct, she feels remorse for being caught.”

Adaya said she will appeal the jury’s verdict.

 

About the Author: Lori Lowenthal Marcus is the US correspondent for The Jewish Press. She is a recovered lawyer who previously practiced First Amendment law and taught in Philadelphia-area graduate and law schools.


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