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Santa Monica hotel owner discriminated against Jews, jury finds

Santa Monica's Hotel Shangri-La and its owner discriminated against members of a Jewish organization two years ago when staff and security guards ordered the group to halt a poolside event, a jury determined Wednesday.

The hotel was ordered to pay the group more than $1 million in statutory damages, with punitive damages yet to be determined.

Members of the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces had gathered at the Art Deco hotel on the afternoon of July 11, 2010, and, shortly after their party got underway, were told to remove their literature and banners, get out of the pool and hot tub, and stop handing out T-shirts, according to court documents and testimony.

The employees said they were following the orders of hotel owner Tehmina Adaya, a Muslim woman of Pakistani descent.

During the trial, which began July 23 in Santa Monia Superior Court, the jury heard deposition testimony of a former employee, Nathan Codrey, who said Adaya repeatedly used profanity as she insisted that the event stop.

"If my [family finds] out there's a Jewish event here, they're going to pull money from me immediately," Adaya said, according to Codrey's testimony, which was read by a stand-in because Codrey was out of state and could not be subpoenaed.

Adaya emphatically denied she had ordered the group to halt the event for fear that her family would cut off her financing. She inherited control of the hotel from her father, Ahmad Adaya, a real estate tycoon and philanthropist who died in 2006.

The event was arranged through Platinum Events, a marketing firm that had organized other gatherings at the Shangri-La after the property underwent a $30-million renovation and reopened in mid-2009.

The jury found that Adaya and the hotel violated California's Unruh Civil Rights Act, which bars hotels and other businesses from discriminating on the basis of sex, race, color or religion, and inflicted emotional distress. The panel awarded statutory damages of more than $1.2 million. A hearing on punitive damages is scheduled Thursday.

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— Martha Groves

 
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