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Woman Says Hotel Fired Her for Her Opinions

CHARLESTON, S.C. (CN) - A former director of rooms at the Charleston Place Hotel in this fabled southern city's historic district says she was fired for expressing an opinion about the death of Walter Scott, the unarmed black man killed by white policeman last spring.

Kimberly Collins joined the hotel's staff as a front desk clerk in August 1987, and in the decades that followed was been promoted five times.

But in a complaint filed in the Charleston Federal Court on Tuesday, Collins, who is white, says her 28-year career unraveled shortly after Scott's death and as a direct result of the protests that ensued in its aftermath.

Collins says shortly after the shooting and arrest of North Charleston police officer Michael Slager, the Rev. Al Sharpton came to town to lead a vigil and attend Scott's funeral. She said discovered that Leon Scott, another director of rooms, had "comped" Sharpton for one night in December 2014, and tried to do so again after the reverend, television host and former presidential candidate arrived in the city in April.

Collins also says Scott and Carol Etheridge, the hotel's human resources director, traveled to North Charleston to attend Mayor Keith Summey's press conference about the shooting.

it was during this emotionally charged time, the complaint says, that convention services managers that utilize the hotel for events, expressed concern about bringing their groups in because protestors could potentially create a hostile or disruptive environment.

"Indeed, these customers were threatening to cancel reservations which included guest rooms, convention space and banquet food and beverages," Collins says.

She says that in response, she had prepared a letter to send to meeting planners to reassure them about the tranquility of the hotel, when suddenly she heard a commotion from the lobby that turned out to be a protest by Black Lives Matter.

"The protesters were chanting in a loud and menacing manner in the lobby of the hotel and then moved into one of the hotel's restaurants, the Palmetto Cafe, during lunch hour where they continued to protest in a loud manner, disrupting a very busy lunch crowd," Collins says.

"Of course, the entire event scared patrons, guests and employees of defendant and this, in turn, concerned plaintiff," she adds.

The next day, Collins claims, Leon Scott sent an email to staff about the incident, and expressed the opinion that he participants were "well guided and respectful. Just loud and disruptive."

Collins says later that afternoon, She, Scott and two others were seated in the employee cafeteria when she "leaned toward him and quietly stated that she did not think his April 13, 2015 email was a good idea because it could give the impression the hotel was supporting the protesters' behavior."

Up to this moment, Collins says, everyone at the table were friends. However, she says, she soon felt she was being attacked as her co-workers "began to aggressively argue with plaintiff about the Walter Scott shooting and the protests."

"In response, plaintiff expressed her political opinion in regard to the Walter Scott shooting by stating that she did not understand the protesters because the police officer who shot Walter Scott had been quickly arrested, was behind bars and charged with murder," the complaint says. "Plaintiff further elaborated that the authorities were acting on the situation in a swift manner, that race relations in the United States had been bad the last seven years; and that this situation (the protests) did not help."

Collins also says she asked one of her co-workers, "What do you want us to do? Tell the convention groups not to come?" She says she then turned to Scott and asked why he had "comped" Sharpton, when it was against company policy.

Collins said two days later she was called into the office of hotel general manager Paul Stracey, who told her she was being suspended, but not fired, for the political opinions she'd expressed in the employee lunchroom.

Hopeful of returning to work the next week, Collins said she received a phone call at home on the night of April 19, 2015, in which Stracey allegedly said "It looked as though he was going to have to terminate her."

She was formally terminated two days later.

Collins seeks unspecified actual, special and punitive damages on claims of wrongful termination, and race discrimination.

She is represented by A. Christopher Potts of Hitchcock & Potts in Charleston.

A spokeswoman for Belmond, the owner of the hotel said it has received Collins' complaint, believes it is entirely without merit, and will respond to it in due course.

" As a policy, Belmond does not otherwise comment on pending litigation," the spokeswoman said.

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