- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The North Carolina attorney general’s office is reportedly investigating the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Charlotte for potentially discriminating against African-Americans when it tacked on a 15 percent surcharge for customers during a conference for the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA).

The CIAA — a conference comprised of historically black U.S. colleges and universities — held its annual basketball tournament last month in Charlotte.

Conference participants stayed at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, but many non-participating hotel guests complained after seeing an automatic “CIAA Service” surcharge of 15 percent added to their bills at the lobby bar, Fox News reported.

After being contacted by local CBS affiliate WBTV, the Ritz-Carlton explained that “Due to the size of the CIAA event, we instituted a modest 15% service charge for our lobby beverage servers, on whom the event places significant demands throughout the weekend.”

Patrice Wright, a customer who complained to local media about the surcharge, questioned whether the same practice goes for other events in the area.

“Is there an ACC Championship surcharge? Is there a Speed Street surcharge? Is there a Belk Bowl surcharge?” she asked in a WBTV interview.

The Ritz would not answer those questions, the station reported.

The Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority (CRVA) said in a statement that while automatic gratuities can be common practice at some hotels, the language used by the Ritz-Carlton was “confusing and misleading for CIAA guests.”

“Both CIAA and the CRVA were unaware of this service charge when it was imposed,” the statement said. “The CIAA and the CRVA will continue to work with hotels and hospitality businesses to ensure such exceptions to using the CIAA name for any surcharges which are not approved by the CIAA are discouraged.”

After facing increased scrutiny from national media, the Ritz-Carlton apologized: “We would like to apologize to any guests we may have offended by the addition of a service charge we implemented at a recent event in our lobby lounge. The service charge was not intended to single out any particular group or organization and we deeply regret any misunderstanding this may have caused. It is important for all guests to feel welcomed at our hotel and for them to receive the highest level of service, respect and hospitality we strive for every day.”

But that explanation didn’t satisfy Special Deputy Attorney General Harriet Worley, who sent an inquiry to the Ritz-Carlton on Tuesday, NPR reported.

“We’ve received a couple of complaints from consumers about this today,” Public Information Officer Noelle Talley told NPR.

The attorney general’s office is asking customers who paid the 15 percent surcharge to fill out a complaint.

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