Grammy-Winning Guitarist Leo Nocentelli Allegedly Denied Entry to Travelodge Because of Race
On Sept. 30, guitarist and composer Leo Nocentelli sued Travelodge Hotels, Inc. for race discrimination. Nocentelli, a member of New Orleans instrumental outfit the Meters who has won a Grammy…
Chivalry may be dead, but racism in this country, unfortunately, isn’t. Yesterday (Sept. 30), guitarist and composer Leo Nocentelli sued Travelodge Hotels, Inc. for race discrimination. Nocentelli, a member of New Orleans instrumental outfit the Meters who has won a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and recorded with the likes of Stevie Wonder, Etta James, Paul McCartney, and Mavis Staples, alleges that San Francisco’s Market Street Travelodge denied him a room that he had he reserved because he was black.
Two years ago, on Oct. 18, 2012, Nocentelli and his African-American bandmates in the Meters attempted to check into the Travelodge after soundcheck at the Brick & Mortar Music Hall, where they were scheduled to perform later that night. According to the complaint, the Travelodge employee at the front desk did not let them into the locked lobby but talked to them through a security window, requesting a $100 cash deposit. Once Nocentelli offered to pay the money for himself and an additional $200 the Travelodge employee requested for his bandmates, the employee said he didn’t want them staying at the hotel at all — even though Rich Vogel, the Meters’ sole white member, had checked in without a problem earlier that evening.
It gets worse. Nocentelli called Brick & Mortar owner Jason Perkins, who had made the reservations; Perkins arrived at the hotel and asked the employee what the problem was. Rather than giving an answer, the employee asked Perkins “why he sent ‘these guys’ to the hotel instead of the ‘white guys’ he usually sends,” adding that they “don’t take credit cards from those people.” When Perkins asked what he meant, the employee responded, “Black people.” Keep reading.
Understandably shocked and appalled, Perkins called the local police, who said they had been called to that Travelodge before for the same reason but could not force the hotel to accommodate people they didn’t want to. That is puzzling and suspicious in and of itself, since California obeys 1959’s Unruh Civil Rights Act, a derivative of the Federal Civil Rights Act, which guarantees everyone “full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any place of public accommodation, without discrimination or segregation on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin.”
In a statement, Nocentelli’s attorney, Erin Pulaski, said the “unfortunate incident evoked Mr. Nocentelli’s childhood memories of growing up in the segregated South,” traumatizing him emotionally and mentally. Furthermore, Pulaski tells Billboard, the reason the lawsuit occurred nearly two years after the initial incident is because Travelodge representatives never responded.
“We wanted to give the hotel the opportunity to do the right thing,” says Pulaski. “We reached out to both defendants [Travelodge Hotels, Inc. and its franchisee, RTRN Investments, LLC] in an attempt to engage in informal communications to see whether they might be willing to take some action to redress the harm that has been done. As far as I know, we never received any response from RTRN Investments. We engaged in informal discussions with Travelodge Hotels, Inc., but could not reach an adequate resolution.”
Regarding the matter, Travelodge provided this statement to Billboard:
Thank you so much for contacting us regarding this matter. As you can imagine, we are deeply troubled by this allegation. We have a service-oriented culture; a culture that encourages the members of our family to be respectful and deliver great experiences, every time. Our core values call for acting with integrity in all that we do and respecting everyone, everywhere — we believe that respect knows no boundaries. We embrace diversity as we believe that it enriches the communities where we live and work, and the lives of our employees and customers.
With regard the issue at the franchised location in San Francisco, please know that we’re not able to comment on pending litigation.
Now, Nocentelli and his lawyers are seeking damages for “reprehensible and blatant race discrimination” and emotional distress, along with punitive damages, injunctive relief, and attorneys’ fees and costs, according to the press release.
“What happened to Leo Nocentelli, a world-renowned musical artist, when he was denied a hotel room at the Travelodge because he is an African-American, cannot and should not be tolerated in the United States,” wrote attorney Benjamin Schonbrun in an email to Billboard. “It is simply wrong and it is a reminder to all good people that there is still work to be done.”