ARIA sued on racial discrimination allegations surrounding 2019 incident

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LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – APRIL 03: Aria Resort & Casino makes a positive post on their marquee with “Even apart, We’re in this together.” text amid ongoing spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak across the United States on April 03, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The World Health Organization declared the coronavirus (COVID-19) as a global pandemic on March 11th. (Photo by Jacob Kepler/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — A California couple has filed a civil lawsuit against ARIA Resort and Casino alleging racial discrimination after a 2019 visit that ended in security throwing them off the property.

Rhodney and Sundra Henderson of Berkley, California, are suing ARIA based on events recounted in the lawsuit filed on their behalf by attorneys Paola M. Armeni and Gia N. Marina of the law firm
Clark Hill PLLC. The lawsuit was filed Feb. 19.

Rhodney Henderson, 58, is an African-American man who served in the U.S. Navy and owned a construction business for many years. He is now an equipment operator. Sundra Henderson is also African-American, according to the lawsuit. Her age was not provided.

The lawsuit alleges the actions of 10 security guards constituted racial discrimination and caused physical injury, humiliation and denial of membership benefits earned as members of MGM Resorts International’s M Life rewards program. The lawsuit seeks in excess of $50,000 in damages.

The couple traveled to Las Vegas in June 2019 to celebrate their 34th wedding anniversary, according to the lawsuit. They are described as regular customers who were on their final night of a four-day stay at the resort.

After getting a snack, Sundra Henderson went upstairs to their room while Rhodney remained in the casino to play slot machines. After leaving the slots, Rhodney realized he had left his phone behind. When he went looking for the phone, his interactions with security began.

When his phone wasn’t where he left it, Rhodney Henderson “asked a nearby white couple about his missing phone and whether they happened to see anything happen to it when he was gone. The white couple’s reaction seemed suspicious as they patted themselves down, dug through a purse and continued to stare at Mr. Henderson,” according to the lawsuit.

Mr. Henderson walked away and continued to gamble. When he noticed the couple staring and making gestures, he approached them to tell them it wasn’t a big a deal, he just wanted his phone back. The white couple’s reaction was similar to the first time. Mr. Henderson approached ARIA security to advise them of his missing phone.”

Excerpt from racial discrimination lawsuit against ARIA Resort and Casino

When he approached security about his missing phone, one guard “accused Mr. Henderson of threatening a white couple on the casino floor and inquired whether Mr. Henderson was a member at the hotel,” and asked for his ID, the lawsuit says. Henderson asked why, and told the guard he was a member at the hotel.

The guard then “told Mr. Henderson to leave the premises because he ‘could be lying.’ “

Further accounts describe more officers coming to Henderson’s location, and one guard grabbed his arm. The lawsuit claims four to five guards attacked him and took him to the ground.

He was handcuffed, interrogated and taken to his room, where he and his wife were told to pack up and leave, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleges the guards treated the couple differently from other customers because of their race, and cites multiple claims for damages in excess of $10,000 each, including physical injuries, and emotional distress. The claims total more than $50,000.

Attorneys also state that Sundra Henderson was “trespassed” from the property when she was not involved in the incident at all. Further, the couple’s hotel room door was kept open, exposing them to humiliation as other guests passed and became aware of the security guards’ actions to throw them out.

Tha lawsuit also cites a previous legal action against another MGM property, The Mirage, in a settled claim of racial discrimination against African-Americans and Hispanics. No further details of that lawsuit were provided.

The lawsuit states: “This was not an isolated incident. There is a history of similar incidents involving African-American guests and invitees at ARIA and MGM franchise hotels throughout the United States, continuing up to and indeed beyond the time of the Henderson’s incident. ARIA’s employees, agents and apparent agents use security guards to challenge and remove African-American guests from Hotel properties. Similarly situated white guests and invitees on Hotel properties were not treated in a similar manner.”

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