Ocean City motel cleared of discrimination claim

Jury says race not a factor when 5 were told to leave

April 18, 2002|By Michael James | Michael James,SUN STAFF

A federal jury has found that a popular Ocean City motel did not racially discriminate against an interracial family that was asked to leave because too many people were in their rented room.

The jury in U.S. District Court in Baltimore deliberated 30 minutes Tuesday before rejecting the discrimination claim of Marie Murrell, who brought the $1 million lawsuit against the Ocean Mecca Motel. Murrell, who is white, claimed that a motel manager asked her family to leave July 30, 1999, after discovering that her young grandsons and daughter were black.

Edward M. Buxbaum, the attorney representing the motel, said Murrell's claim was frivolous.

"The Ocean Mecca Motel has been in operation for 44 years and has let people in of all ethnic and racial backgrounds," Buxbaum said. "We feel wholly vindicated that the motel did not, has not, and will not discriminate based on race. It took the jury just 30 minutes to agree with that."

James P. Gillece Jr., Murrell's attorney, said no appeal is planned.

"It was a fair trial," Gillece said. "Of course, you're always disappointed when you lose, but that's our system. We respect it very much."

Those testifying for the motel included the desk clerk, who had alerted a manager that Murrell and her family were a party of five - one more than motel occupancy rules allow. The clerk, who is white, testified that she has dated a black man for the past five years and therefore has no racial bias.

Testimony also showed that the party that checked in at the Ocean Mecca after Murrell left was composed of different races, Buxbaum said.

U.S. District Judge Frederic N. Smalkin, who presided over the case, had dismissed Murrell's lawsuit last year, saying that the eviction didn't prove discrimination. But Gillece appealed to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., which reversed Smalkin's finding and said the family should be allowed to take its case to a jury.

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