In 1980, an African-American couple, Harold and Shirley Ledsinger, were thrown out of an auto parts store. The owner allegedly called Harold a “n*****” in front of others, told him to get his “black a**” out of the store, and added that he “did not want or need n***** business.” The Michigan Court of Appeals said that the Ledsingers could bring suit under a section of Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, which makes it illegal to “deny an individual the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of a place of public accommodation or public service because of religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, or marital status.” They were able to seek “compensatory and exemplary damages … for the indignity and anguish caused by discrimination” as well as reasonable attorney fees.
Thirty six years later, an Ypsilanti auto repair facility is in the news for responses to negative customer reviews on the website “Yelp,” which some call race baiting, including this comment, since removed: “Most reviews will be left by blacks from Ypsilanti. Because I don’t want them to call here. … Ghetto folks need to stay in the Ghetto …”. A person claiming to be the owner defended these comments in an interview with the news site mic.com.
While it has not been determined whether Whitney’s conduct is illegal, it certainly evokes the racism the Ledsingers encountered so long ago. Fortunately both Michigan and the federal civil rights act are still around to provide a remedy.