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Muslim hotel owner discriminated against Jewish group, jury finds

August 15, 2012 | 10:01 pm

The Hotel Shangri-La in Santa Monica and its owner discriminated against members of a Jewish organization at a charitable event two years ago, a Santa Monica Superior Court jury determined Wednesday.

The case was brought by young leaders of Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, who had gathered on the afternoon of July 11, 2010, at the Art Deco hotel. Soon after their party got underway around the pool, hotel staff and security guards began telling group members to remove their literature and banners, to get out of the pool and hot tub, and to stop handing out T-shirts, according to legal documents and testimony.

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

In testimony during the trial, which began July 23, Adaya denied that she had violated California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act, which bars hotels and other businesses from discriminating on the basis of sex, race, color or religion.

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

The event had been 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 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,” she said, according to the testimony, which was read by a stand-in because Codrey was out of state and could not be subpoenaed.

“This is a home run for the plaintiffs,” said James Turken, their attorney.

John Levitt, an attorney for Adaya, declined to comment.

“I’m very proud to be part of a group who stood up for what is right and what is just,” said Ari Ryan, a plaintiff.

The jury found that Adaya and the hotel violated the Unruh Act and inflicted emotional distress. The panel awarded statutory damages of more than $1.2 million.

A hearing on punitive damages is scheduled for Thursday.

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-- Martha Groves

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