RAPID CITY, S.D. – A consent decree has been reached by the owners and operators of the Grand Gateway Hotel and the Cheers Sports Lounge and Casino, located in Rapid City, South Dakota, following a lawsuit by the Justice Department. The lawsuit alleged that the defendants violated Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by discriminating against Native American customers.
The consent decree, which is yet to be approved by the U.S. District Court for the District of South Dakota, states that Connie Uhre will be prohibited from serving at the company, or from performing any management duties, or being involved in any operations on behalf of the Grand Gateway Hotel for four years. In addition, the defendants are required to issue a public apology and send it specifically to tribal organizations in South Dakota and throughout the Great Plains region.
“As alleged in the complaint, the defendants both prevented Native Americans from booking rooms at the hotel and made public statements discouraging Native Americans from setting foot on the business’s property,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “Statements like the one made by a defendant in this case – that ‘[w]e will no long[er] allow any Native American on property,’ – are reminiscent of a long history of prejudice and exclusion Native American communities have faced. The Justice Department will continue to work alongside Native American communities to fulfill the promise of equal protection under the law.”
“This consent decree affirms what should have never been at issue in the first place — that Native Americans have the fundamental right to receive equal services at places of public accommodation,” said U.S. Attorney Alison J. Ramsdell for the District of South Dakota. “Although this agreement does not change the reprehensible behavior of Ms. Uhre or the harm caused by racial discrimination, the consent decree mandates Uhre’s removal from corporate control, the immediate cessation of discriminatory policies, and the implementation of a series of preventative measures that must be taken at the expense of the corporation. The ongoing involvement of the Justice Department stands as a forceful reminder to all business owners in South Dakota that refusing services on the basis of race is against the law and will not be tolerated.”
The Department’s lawsuit, which was filed in Oct. 2022, alleges that since at least March 20, 2022, the Retsel Corporation and two of its directors, Connie Uhre and Nicholas Uhre, discriminated against Native American customers. This was done through policies and procedures that denied Native Americans equal access to the Grand Gateway Hotel.
Specifically, the complaint alleged that on or around March 20, 2022, Uhre told other Rapid City hotel owners and managers that she did “not want to allow Natives on property…. The problem is we do not know the nice ones from the bad natives…so we just have to say no to them!” Uhre then announced on Facebook that “[w]e will no long[sic] allow any Native American” in the Grand Gateway or the Cheers Sports Lounge and Casino. The complaint further alleged that on at least two occasions, on March 21 and March 22, 2022, respectively, the defendants turned away Native Americans who sought to book rooms in the Grand Gateway.
The apology, issued as part of the consent decree, includes the following statement:
“We extend our sincere apology to all for the statements made by Connie Uhre on March 19-20, 2022, regarding Native Americans. Ms. Uhre’s comments were not consistent with the values or policies of our company or of our businesses, the Grand Gateway Hotel and Cheers Sports Lounge. We deeply regret the pain or harm Ms. Uhre’s statements have caused within our Native American community. We want to make clear that we welcome all Native Americans to the Grand Gateway Hotel and Cheers Sports Lounge.”
Per the consent decree, the defendants are required to appoint a compliance officer who will ensure compliance with its terms. They must also implement and publish an anti-discrimination policy, set up a complaint process, undergo training, and develop a positive marketing plan. These provisions will remain effective for the next three years.
Title II prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, or national origin in places of public accommodation, such as hotels and entertainment venues. Under Title II, the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department can obtain injunctive relief to remediate discriminatory conduct by changing policies and practices. However, Title II does not allow the division to obtain monetary damages for customers who are victims of discrimination.