KANSAS CITY, Mo. (CN) - Operators of Kansas City's entertainment district hire white "rabbits" to start altercations with black people to get African-Americans thrown out of clubs and lighten the complexion of the Power and Light District, two men claim in a federal class action.
The Power and Light District in downtown Kansas City is an upscale entertainment district. The district's dress code has come under fire from African-Americans, who claim they are unfairly singled out.
In 2011, four black men filed a class action claiming the district, which they referred to as the "Power and White" district, used the dress code to discriminate against them.
In the latest complaint, two African-American men - Dante' Combs and Adam Williams - claim they were victims of a white rabbit - the term used to describe the hired race baiters.
Combs, a pharmaceutical representative with a college degree, claims he was standing outside a club in the district waiting for some friends and a white man walked up to him and knocked his cell phone out of his hands.
The man proceeded to get in Combs face. Several security guards quickly responded and kicked Combs out of the district, but not the white man, he claims in the lawsuit.
Another time, in the summer of 2011, Combs says he was not allowed inside a club though white patrons were allowed in with little or no questioning. After standing in line, watching white people enter, when he was finally acknowledged by security, Combs was told his pants were too baggy -though he was wearing a suit and tie.
Later in 2011, Combs and Williams were at another bar in the Power and Light District with a group of friends. Williams is a medical sales consultant with a college degree. At some point in the evening, two female doctors who knew Williams came up to him and started talking with him and Combs.
About 30 minutes later, a white man walked up to the doctors and asked if Combs and Williams were bothering them, the lawsuit states. Despite being told they were not, the white man started a fight with Williams and Combs. Williams was handcuffed and detained by security for 90 minutes despite multiple witnesses claiming he wasn't the instigator, according to the complaint.
The plaintiffs claim that the man wasn't detained or even questioned.
The plaintiffs sued The Cordish Companies, Lounge KC LLC dba Mosaic Lounge, Entertainment Concepts Investors, First Response Inc. and Entertainment Consulting International in federal court Monday. The defendants run and operate the Power and Light District.
The plaintiffs' attorney, Linda S. Dickens, told Courthouse News that she became aware of the rabbits while representing Glen Cusimano in an employment action filed against the same defendants this month.
Cusimano, the former security liaison for the entire Power and Light District, claims he was instructed to employ a "rabbit" - a white man willing to start arguments with black patrons to get them kicked out of Power and Light.
Cusimano says in his lawsuit that he was told to find someone who would accept cash under the table or free drinks to do the job.
The rabbit was supposed to start an argument with black patrons in front of security guards, Cusimano says in his complaint. The security guards would intervene quickly, ejecting both parties before the confrontation came to blows.
Cusimano said the rabbit would then re-enter Power and Light through a separate entrance.
Central to the scheme was the quick intervention by security guards, Cusimano's complaint states. As long as there was no physical altercation, the parties could be ejected without the need for paperwork.
Ironically, Cusimano claims he was set up by a rabbit in an incident that led to his ouster.
Dickens said Cusimano was set up because of his growing objections to the use of rabbits.
"I was appalled and absolutely blown away," Dickens told Courthouse News.
Cusimano knew of just the one rabbit he employed, but Dickens believes there are others. She said the incident with Combs getting his cell phone knocked out of his hands predates the rabbit Cusimano knew.
Dickens hopes to uncover more of the scheme as discovery in both cases progresses.
"The defendants have been changing their story consistently for the last six months," Dickens told Courthouse News. "Instead of focusing on the facts, they've launched a smear campaign against Glen Cusimano."
The new class action also claims the defendants discouraged black patrons by turning them away for real or perceived dress code violations, excessively questioning black patrons to try to start an altercation, failing to serve black patrons at bars and lying to black patrons about available club reservations.
The defendants also keep "a head count of African Americans present in any one club or area of the District, so that when the 'target' of limit number is reached, additional African Americans will be turned away or caused to leave by virtue of a change in the music genre," the class action complaint states.
The plaintiffs seek punitive damages for racial discrimination, assault, battery and false imprisonment, and an injunction prohibiting the defendants from any further acts of racial discrimination.
The Cordish Companies failed to respond to Courthouse News' request for comment.
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.