MIAMI HERALD DEVELOPING STORY
You’ve heard of “driving while black,” a phrase that describes the well-documented pattern of racial profiling in traffic stops.
How about traveling while Arab?
A Jordanian-American who visited South Florida last week for his anniversary has filed a lawsuit against a Fort Lauderdale hotel arguing that its staff discriminated against him by evicting him and his fiancé without just cause.
Rami Ziyadat, a Chicago resident, booked an eight-day stay at The Westin Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort for $2,606. It would be his third stay at the hotel with his fiancé, Taylor Schneider, also a plaintiff in the lawsuit. But four days into their stay, on May 24, a hotel employee noticed Arabic words tattooed on Ziyadat’s forearm and called security, according to a discrimination lawsuit filed in federal court in South Florida.
The employee told Ziyadat he didn’t “look like you belong here,” according to the lawsuit. They were then evicted from the hotel after the manager explained the couple was being “inappropriate” and had “violated the hotel policy,” the lawsuit alleges.
“This is simply false. Nothing could be further from the truth,” the lawsuit states. “Rami and Taylor were then marched out of the hotel flanked by security and subjected to incredible humiliation as the other hotel guests stared at the couple surrounded by security.”
Westin general manager Danny Estevez declined to comment on the lawsuit, but said his hotel aimed to provide an inclusive environment.
“Diversity and inclusion are part of the fabric of our culture and operations,” he said in a statement. “We remain committed to providing an environment where all feel welcome.”
The couple had been drinking fruity drinks at the hotel’s pool bar moments before the confrontation. Ziyadat left the pool to grab water for Schneider, when a towel attendant began “glaring at him, staring at the Arabic words” tattooed on his arm, the lawsuit alleges.
Ziyadat explained to the attendant that the couple were guests at the hotel, but the attendant told him she was calling security. A hotel manager, identified as Robert Munn, apologized to the couple and offered them two days of passes to the spa, promising to speak with the offending employee, the lawsuit alleges.
Instead, the manager visited them in their hotel room less than an hour later with security beside him, the lawsuit alleges. He told them they were being evicted and that police would be called if they did not leave.
Schneider, Ziyadat’s fiancé, began looking around for cameras. She thought someone was pranking her.
Ziyadat and Schneider filed suit on Friday against the hotel and its parent company, DiamondRock Hospitality Co. The lawsuit alleges that the hotel discriminated against Ziyadat as an Arab, broke a contract by evicting him and defamed him by claiming the couple had acted inappropriately and that Ziyadat did not belong at the hotel.
Ziyadat and Schneider are represented by Yechezkel Rodal of the Fort Lauderdale-based Rodal Law, P.A.
“The Westin, by and through its employees, essentially threw Rami [Ziyadat] and Taylor [Schneider] out on the street with 15 minutes warning and refused to refund their money,” the lawsuit alleges. “Rami and Taylor had no choice but to pay another hotel for the remainder of their stay.”