Suit details Moose bias against black applicant

August 20, 1994|By Marcia Myers | Marcia Myers,Sun Staff Writer

The message went out directly last Feb. 16 to members of Hagerstown Moose Lodge 212, whose reported angst over the application of a black man had prompted the arrival of three officials from Moose International: No applicant should be rejected because of race, the members were told.

Later in the meeting the group took its vote: Of the 15 applicants, 14 were voted on as a slate, approved with raised hands. The black man, James Yates, was rejected separately in a secret paper ballot.

An account of the meeting, described as hostile and openly racist, was disclosed in a discrimination suit Mr. Yates has filed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore seeking at least $1 million in damages.

After an outcry from civil rights leaders, politicians and residents, the Loyal Order of Moose shut down the lodge one week after the meeting for "repeated violations" of Moose policies.

Of its 7,500 members, none were black.

Officials of Moose International said yesterday that they had not seen the suit and declined to comment.

Besides Moose International Inc., which is based near Chicago, the suit names Lodge 212 and Maurice Jenkins, its former governor.

According to the suit:

Members were open in their animosity toward Mr. Yates' application during the meeting. The secret ballot was suggested after a vote for all 15 applicants together received an overwhelmingly negative vote.

"We all know why we are here,'' one member said. "We're voting on one man and one man only -- James Yates. Everyone here knows the name James Yates."

Other members were more direct, saying "We don't need no blacks in here," and "We don't need their kind in here."

The Moose International officials did not rebuke the members as these comments were made, and when the 52-19 result of the secret ballot was announced, many members clapped, the suit said.

Mr. Jenkins acknowledged the secret ballot vote yesterday but said that is not unusual when there is an objection to an applicant.

"There's no discrimination there," he said. "The membership has the right to vote for who they want in and who they want out. We've turned down a judge and councilmen."

He recalled only one member making a racist-type comment about Mr. Yates during the meeting.

"I told him he was out of order and would have to leave the room," Mr. Jenkins said.

He did not recall anyone applauding when Mr. Yates was voted down.

"I have no idea why he was rejected," Mr. Jenkins said. "You don't have to tell why you reject somebody."

William Alden McDaniel Jr., a lawyer for Mr. Yates, said that since the incident, his client has been publicly harassed and threatened at his home and work.

Anonymous callers told Mr. Yates he would have been sorry had he been accepted. Others called him derogatory racial names, and some threatened him with physical harm, according to the suit. In one day alone, Mr. Yates received 16 harassing phone calls at his job, Mr. McDaniel said.

"This is a man who had no other purpose than to join a club that he thought worked on projects for the public good,'' Mr. McDaniel said. "To be faced with this kind of discrimination is intolerable.''

After Mr. Yates' rejection by the group, the U.S. Justice Department began an investigation to determine if the vote represented a civil rights violation. The status of that investigation could not immediately be determined.

In March, Lodge 212 agreed to sell its building and close permanently to resolve a 2-year-old discrimination suit.

The settlement resolved a complaint filed in 1992 by the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU accused the lodge of turning away black nonmembers at its restaurant, even though it served white nonmembers.

The lodge still exists as a corporation, according to Mr. Jenkins, but he said it has no assets.

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