Hotel Racism Incident Shows Even Decent Response Will Meet Criticism

Thom Weidlich 01.03.19


A Hilton hotel in Oregon had to react recently to an all-too-typical racial crisis; its messages and response hit many aspects of proper crisis communications, including making heads roll — though that doesn’t mean criticism didn’t rain down on the company.

On Saturday, Dec. 22, an African-American man who was making a cellphone call to his mother in the lobby of the DoubleTree by Hilton hotel in Portland, Oregon, was told he was trespassing by a white security guard, and police escorted him out of the building.

The booted-out man, Jermaine Massey, was in fact a guest at the hotel. His cellphone video of the incident made the usual rounds, becoming yet another example of a black person being harassed for doing everyday things. In a noteworthy part of this incident, when Massey told the security guard he was a hotel guest, the guard (identified only as “Earl” from his name plate) reportedly responded, “Not anymore.”

In the wake of the incident, the independently owned hotel posted three statements on its Facebook page. The messages weren’t bad, though they were a little delayed, given the holidays. Of course, not everyone was impressed. Thousands of Facebook users responded, many caustically. We’ll point out some examples of those.

The hotel didn’t issue its first response until Dec. 26. It was a holding statement that said what such statements typically do: that the company was aware of the situation, was sorry it turned out badly, and was investigating — but it doesn’t discriminate. It was careful not to accuse Massey (whom it didn’t name) nor to apologize to him. The facts weren’t in yet.

“This incident that occurred over the holidays between our hotel and guest is unfortunate,” the company said.

(One Facebook response: “Why did it take so long for the Hilton group to apologize? How do you care about the security of your guests by calling the cops on a paying guest? Are you run by morons?”)

Internal Procedures

Two days later, the hotel posted another statement. This time it apologized to Massey, saying his treatment was “unacceptable and contrary to our values.” It said it would engage a third party to fully investigate the matter, including reviewing internal procedures and training. In a show of action, it put the employees involved on leave (it didn’t name them).

(A response: “Zero tolerance means they are fired. No paid leave, no retraining, no transfer to another hotel. No guest of any color wants to see their faces again.”)

By the next day, the probe was apparently complete. The hotel posted a statement that it had now fired the manager and security guard “Earl.” “Our hotel is a place of hospitality, and their actions were inconsistent with our standards and values,” it said. It said it would upgrade its training and again apologized to Massey.

(Response: “This incident occurred on Sunday 12/23. It took you a WEEK to do an internal review and see that your employee’s ‘actions were inconsistent with your standards and values’? Unbelievable.”)

Massey is reportedly planning to sue over the manner. Time to put the litigation communications in gear.

Photo Credit: DoubleTree by Hilton Portland via Facebook

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