The Delaware Supreme Court has ruled that a movie theater manager’s mandate that a screening room full of black patrons be quiet during the film did not violate the state’s equal accommodation laws.
This all started with a 2007 showing of “Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married” at the Carmike 14 Theater in Dover. The manager, David Stewart, told the room’s 23 black patrons to be quiet, remain in their seats and turn off their cell phones.
Stewart was then followed out of the theater by a patron, who told him his comments were not well taken. So Stewart went back, explaining he didn’t mean to offend anyone, but he had to make the announcement per the policy of theater owner.
One of the 23 African Americans in attendance was Juana Fuentes-Bowles, who just so happens to be the director of Delaware’s Human Relations Division. She stood up and told everyone that Stewart’s comments were racist.
Although Stewart did not use “racist language” her office conducted a hearing and found that his conduct violated the state’s equal accommodation law. The Delaware Supreme Court had originally found that Stewart did indeed single-out a black audience for the silence demands – since he did not make the same announcement in other theater rooms on the same night.
Each of the 23 complainants were awarded $1,500 in damages for being told to be quiet during the movie.
But a Superior Court then reversed the decision, and today the state’s Supreme Court has affirmed the reversal.
According to Supreme Court Justice Jack Jacobs, the theater-goers failed to establish evidence of racial discrimination. The judge accepted testimony by Stewart that his comments were not motivated by race as Stewart evidently would have equally told teenagers to pipe down during a screening of “Halloween.”