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Al Sharpton group to spotlight diversity issues with South Philly casino owners

UPDATE: 3:20 p.m.

A representative from Al Sharpton’s National Action Network plans to interrupt today’s Planning Commission meeting about the South Philly casino, Billy Penn has learned. The group plans to emphasize discrimination lawsuits against the casino’s developer and Philly leaders’ lack of concern for the lawsuits.

Cordish Companies, based in Baltimore, is developing the new casino and has developed entertainment areas up and down the East Coast and in the Midwest, including XFINITY Live! here in Philadelphia. Cordish faces lawsuits for alleged racial discrimination against black people at venues in Kansas City and Louisville.

In Philadelphia, the lawsuits have dropped out of sight since the Black Clergy conducted an investigation and stated in early July “there is no credible evidence that the Cordish Company (sic) practices racism or has a culture and or history of discrimination.”

This won’t be the first time activists have tried to highlight the alleged discriminatory practices of Cordish Companies. The Daily News also reported in June that Mayor Michael Nutter nixed a press conference called by the local NAACP chapter to address the alleged racial discrimination by Cordish Companies. The press conference was to take place about a month before the national NAACP conference in Philly, and the Daily News reported Nutter said the news conference wouldn’t have been good for the national chapter. Nutter denied asking for the press conference to be canceled.

According to the agenda put forth by the Planning Commission, Saul-Ewing attorney Richard Hayden will be making the presentation about the new casino at today’s meeting. Hayden is a former state representative with close ties to Nutter. He served as counsel for Nutter’s transition team when Nutter assumed the mayor’s office in 2007 and as a member of Nutter’s Inaugural Committee in 2012.

Paula Peebles, chairwoman of the Pennsylvania chapter of the National Action Network, is planning to speak out about the lawsuits, Billy Penn has learned. She plans ask to speak at what the Planning Commission has titled an “information only” presentation. If she’s denied permission to speak, she plans to hold an impromptu press conference outside the meeting room, which in One Parkway Building at 1515 Arch Street.

Peebles did not respond to a request for comment. Tuesday afternoon, Billy Penn received an emailed statement from her in which she said the National Action Network plans its own investigation of Cordish Companies. 

“We believe it is highly improper for the City’s Planning Commission to hold a hearing about Cordish Company’s proposed casino until the disturbing allegations of racial discrimination they face are addressed,” she said in a statement. “Any move to advance this casino without a full investigation of these claims is nothing more than a whitewash – absolving the company of any potential wrongdoing they may have committed and the city of its responsibility to uncover the truth about who they are choosing to do business with.”

Sharpton’s group has advocated for civil rights through protests and political movements since its founding in 1991. Last fall it helped coordinate the “Hands Up For Justice” rally in cities across the country after no charges were filed against officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown.

The lawsuits have involved people and incidents at Kansas City’s Power & Light District and Louisville’s 4th Street Live, which are basically larger versions of XFINITY Live! In the Power & Light case, the Kansas City Human Relations Department filed a suit alleging discriminatory dress code practices and settled in 2009 after Cordish Companies agreed to alter its dress code. A second Power & Light lawsuit, this one a class action suit brought forward by two black men, was thrown out by a judge this summer. But in the depositions for the case multiple former employees testified that managers told them to limit the number of black visitors allowed in the venue. A third lawsuit is set for trial in November. In it, a former Power & Light employee claims a supervisor would hire a white man to start fights with black men and have the black men kicked out of the bar.

The Louisville suit is ongoing. Cordish Companies has claimed no wrongdoing in all of the discriminatory litigation it faces.   

The lawsuits against Cordish Companies haven’t been the only controversies surrounding the construction of the South Philly casino, called Live! Hotel and Casino. Billy Penn revealed in July the casino’s plans to include an “Asian Pit.” Leaders in South Philly, including those in the Southeast Asian community, are concerned the new casino will target low income residents.

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