UNDER HIS SKIN

ADAM'S MARK DEVELOPER FRED KUMMER LOST A $5 MILLION RACIAL-DISCRIMINATION SUIT IN ST. LOUIS--BUT WON $25 MILLION FROM DENVER.

Based on the mysterious call and Kummer's answer at the meeting, Davis says, he went along with the subsidy for Adam's Mark.

Mike Cerbo, the business agent for the Hotel and Restaurant Employees and Bartenders International Union, Local #14, in Denver, says he "told everyone" about Kummer's past, "but Tom Strickland had greased the skids, and they blew it by a lame-duck city council." Cerbo says Strickland, who was HBE's lawyer, introduced Kummer at the city council meeting, saying he was a "good citizen." Five days before the city council vote--and eight days after the mayoral runoff, Strickland donated $500 to Webb's campaign. His wife, Beth Strickland, gave another $500 to the Webb campaign six days after the council vote. Strickland didn't return Westword's phone calls.

The EEOC suit against Kummer and HBE involved the firing of two employees at the St. Louis Adam's Mark: Dewey Helms and Bruce Ey. Both were dismissed from their posts in the hotel's personnel office because, according to Ey's attorney, Lisa Van Amburg, Kummer ordered the firing of Helms, a black man, and Ey, who is white, refused to go along with it. After a two-week trial, a jury of two blacks and five whites found for the plaintiffs, awarding Helms and Ey $4.91 million, $4.8 million of which was punitive damages. At least one juror said that she was disappointed they weren't able to give the plaintiffs more money and that she didn't think the $4.8 million was sufficient "punishment for Kummer," according to a report in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Kummer, asked to comment on his "race-relations problems," replies, "I don't have any." Kummer owns and operates seven Adam's Marks Hotels nationwide, and his company builds everything from hospitals to retirement communities. At the trial, he denied ever having made or heard racist remarks at his hotel. He also denied that employment decisions were motivated by race. Kummer argues that he has a "very large company" and essentially cannot be held responsible for every decision and action made under him. Because HBE is appealing the verdict, Kummer says, he can't comment further.

But Van Amburg contends that "it was very clear" that Kummer himself was directing policy at the St. Louis Adam's Mark. And, she says, Kummer's attitude was evident in a number of ways. "There was a lot of testimony from white executives that race was a factor in terminations and a factor in placing people in `front-of-the-house' [visible] positions. With the exception of the doormen, blacks held only `back-of-the-house' positions."

Testimony at the trial included reports that Kummer told his managers he was concerned about how many black associations were being booked into the hotel "back to back" in July and August. Dean Richard Porter, a former director of sales for the St. Louis Adam's Mark, testified that "Mr. Kummer was concerned that with the overwhelming amount of black people that were in the hotel that it would drive away the business traveler, that they would feel outnumbered." One witness, a white woman, testified that Kummer made it a policy to hire only black doormen in order to "uphold the Old South image of the hotel."

And Van Amburg says the discrimination went further than employment. "The other dramatic fact," she says of the trial testimony, "was that management directed people who worked in the bars of the hotel to discourage black patrons by not playing certain types of music that management presumed black people liked and removing from the shelves liquor that management presumed black people liked [which, according to testimony, was Courvoisier, Crown Royal and Hennessy]."

Race was also an issue when Kummer served on the the board of curators for the University of Missouri's St. Louis campus five years ago. In January 1990 he voted against making Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday a holiday, actually storming out of a meeting after ending up on the losing side of the vote, according to local newspaper reports. Kummer admits that he left the meeting in a huff, but he says it was because he had a deal with another curator, Dr. Eva Frasier, "a black woman and a good friend of mine," to vote against making King's birthday a holiday and instead "take the money we would have saved [by not granting the holiday] and turn it into a scholarship for minorities." Kummer says his colleague didn't live up to her commitment with him because of "political correctness." And he adds, "I'd vote the same damn way today." (Frasier could not be reached for comment.)

Kummer apparently is unapologetic about the EEOC case as well. He has yet to pay the verdict, Van Amburg points out, and he's vigorously pursuing an appeal. "I wish that the black community would employ old-fashioned economic boycott to this guy," Van Amburg says. "There's only so much one jury can do."

But far from a boycott of the hotel, some people in Denver's black community seem eager to do business with the local Adam's Mark. In fact, on December 3, the Macedonia Baptist Church will host its second annual Community Awards Banquet at Kummer's hotel. The Reverend Paul Martin, senior pastor at the church, which is on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, says he knew "something about" Kummer's St. Louis problems but adds, "We had no reason to suspect what happened in St. Louis would happen here." The keynote speaker at the event will be none other than Johnnie Cochran.

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