Marilyn Mathieu and Calvin deGrasse of Maplewood have received an apology from a hotel in Boston that claimed that the couple had smoked in their non-smoking room and left “leaves” behind after they stayed there one recent summer weekend.
The couple also received a refund of the $250 smoking charge and a voucher for a future stay at the Cambria Hotel in downtown Boston.
But Mathieu, 42, and deGrasse, 38, who have two young boys who also stayed at the hotel, said that although she appreciates the apology she won’t be using the voucher.
Mathieu, who was born in Haiti and moved to the United States at age 5, said she believes she and deGrasse, who was born in St. Kitts and Nevis in the Caribbean, were racially profiled, reports NorthJersey.com, which is a part of the USA TODAY Network.
“It’s fear of this happening again, fear that they lied and made up a story,” she said during a phone interview. “I just don’t know why I would, it makes common sense to not go back to a business that accused you of wrongdoing and charged your account.”
In a statement, Eric Churchill, vice president of operations for the Cambria Hotel Downtown-South Boston, said the hotel does not tolerate any form of discrimination. He said they sincerely apologized to the Mathieu family for the misunderstanding, but said that the employees who determined the smoking charge did not know the family is Black.
“We have confirmed internally that the staff involved in assessing the charge were not aware of the guests’ race, as they did not communicate with the guests in person,” Churchill said in the statement. “However, we will be revisiting the reporting process as we believe there is always room for improvement.”
Mathieu said that the manager who checked the family out of the hotel was the same one she spoke to on the phone who told her why she was being charged a smoking fee.
“He said ‘I remember you, but this is what it is, you can fight this with the bank but we will fight it back because we have picture proof,”’ she recalled him saying. “I asked for the proof, and he said he would email it to me later in the day which they never did.”
Complaints of racial profiling have been lodged against hotels in different parts of the country in recent years. Several Black people have filed lawsuits alleging they were confronted about their presence at hotels where they were visitors or registered guests.
Lawsuits have been filed against Hilton properties, at least one was lodged against a Marriott hotel, and Choice Hotels had one in 2010. The Cambria Hotel is part of the Choice Hotels franchise.
In July, a Black family filed a lawsuit against Hilton and the Hampton Inn franchisee in Wilson, North Carolina, after a white female hotel clerk called police over a dispute regarding a billing mistake.
And in June, a Hampton Inn employee was fired after calling the police on a Black family using the hotel’s swimming pool in Williamston, North Carolina.
A weekend trip to Boston
The ongoing coronavirus pandemic had forced Mathieu and deGrasse, and their children, Jeremy, 7, and Hugh, 4, to stay at home during the week, so the couple planned fun activities for the children on the weekends.
Mathieu, a social worker, said she had often talked about going to Boston and walking through the campus of Harvard, so they planned the trip.
Mathieu said she found the Cambria Hotel through an internet search and booked it while in her car.
“It was in the heart of Boston and it seemed it was close to stores and a walkable area,” she recalled.
She said when they arrived their room was not ready. But the family was offered another room that was missing a sliding door that they could have at a lower rate. They decided to take the room.
She said her sons had a great time at the hotel, and that they ordered food and had dinner before they went to sleep. The next morning, the family checked out and continued to explore Boston for a little while longer before heading back home.
Two days later, Mathieu said she saw the $250 charge on her credit card and called the hotel.
“I thought what is this?” she said. “I called the hotel and they told me that it was a smoking fee and I was in a non-smoking room and I was taken back, because one I don’t smoke, and it was kind of bizarre.”
She said during one of several phone conversations, she was told that the hotel had picture proof, and then was told that they had found “leaves” on the bathroom floor of the room. She said she repeatedly asked for the pictures of the proof but never received any.
“This could have happened to any family, Black or white, but I think the fact that we were Black made us an easier target,” she said. “In my mind, when these things happen you have to consider that race has to be a factor.”
She said although they said they found leaves, she said, it was apparent that they were assuming the leaves were marijuana.
“To assume that we were smoking marijuana in front of our children, I don’t know if they would accuse a white family of it, and not give them the benefit of the doubt and say: lets look into this a little bit further and see what we come up with,” she said.
Mathieu decided to alert the consumer advocate reporter for the Boston Globe, who made calls to the hotel for a column. On Wednesday, she said she received a call from Churchill, who apologized.
“They said the manager had no right to charge my account,” she said.
Mathieu said she thought about what is going on around the country since the killing of George Floyd, a Black man, by a police officer in Minnesota which has led to protests around the country centered on racial injustice.
“My situation doesn’t compare to those, but I think that was in the background with what has been happening socially the last few months with the injustices of African American men and women,” she said.
Mathieu said she’s grateful for the experience and being able to speak up, which she hopes will help others who may go through similar experiences.
“I knew exactly what to do and exactly how to fight it,” she said. “In a way I was fortunate that it happened to me because I could shed light on it, maybe someone else would have taken what they had done and not fight it. “