Monday, September 25, 2023
Courthouse News Service
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Movie Theater Not Liable for Hushing Black Patrons

(CN) - A group of black moviegoers did not prove they were harmed by a movie theater manager's request that they stay in their seats, be quiet and turn off their cell phones, the Delaware Supreme Court ruled.

Andre Boggerty and 22 other black plaintiffs sued the Carmike 14 movie theater in Dover and theater manager David Stewart. Before a screening of "Tyler Perry's Why Did I Get Married?" the movie screen displayed the customary announcement to turn off cell phones.

Stewart then made a live announcement, which did not go over well with the audience - approximately 90 percent of whom were black. One of the moviegoers complained, so Stewart came back and apologized, stating that he was following the cinema's current policy.

Another patron stood up and declared that Stewart's announcement was racist. She passed around a sign-up sheet for those who were also offended.

The plaintiffs complained to the State Human Relations Commission that Stewart and the theater violated of the Delaware Equal Accommodations Law. One moviegoer testified that Stewart's tone was "condescending, as if he was talking to children."

Stewart testified that his announcement was not motivated by race. He said he had done the same for a showing of the movie "Halloween," which attracted a large crowd of teenagers.

The commission did not agree and awarded $1,500 to each patron, plus another $5,000 from Carmike to the Special Administration Fund to "vindicate the public interest."

The theater appealed and the superior court reversed the decision. The court ruled that the evidence did not show that Stewart's "subjectively rude announcement" constituted a denial of access.

The case proceeded to the Delaware Supreme Court, which affirmed the superior court's decision in a Feb. 17 ruling written by Justice Jack Jacobs.

"The appellants have failed to establish a prima facie case of racial discrimination," Jacobs wrote. "Specifically, there was no showing of disparate treatment between minority and non-minority audience members."

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