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Hotel sued after salmon sickens NAACP members

More than 100 members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People filed a lawsuit Tuesday that accuses one of the world’s largest hotel groups of negligence by serving them food at a Redwood City hotel that caused them to get violently ill.

Oakland attorney John Burris, who represents the 127 plaintiffs, said they suffered diarrhea, nausea, difficulty swallowing, joint pains, dehydration and vomiting after eating salmon at the California-Hawaii NAACP annual convention at the Hotel Sofitel on Oct. 25, 2014.

Speaking at a news conference at his office, Burris said the guests who ate the salmon contracted a norovirus that made many of them ill for at least several days.

Burris said the suit, which was filed in Alameda County Superior Court, is a tort that alleges a civil wrong, not a civil rights suit.

But he alleged that Sofitel employees didn’t help guests who were suffering painful symptoms and said:

“There’s a real sense that this was racially-motivated or racial neglect.”

Burris said many of the people who attended the dinner were prominent politicians, attorneys, doctors and other professionals but “people weren’t getting the treatment they would expect when they get sick.” He said:

“They expected to be treated fairly and humanely but it looked like a war zone.”

The suit seeks unspecified special, general and punitive damages.

Burris said:

“We want people to be fully compensated for their physical injuries as well as for their emotional pain from being treated poorly.”

Sandra Pinto Duhamel, a spokeswoman for Accor, the French multinational group that owns the Sofitel Luxury Hotels chain, said in a statement:

“We are confident their allegations will not hold up in court. … The safety and welfare of our guests and staff are always our highest priority and our hotel staff went to considerable lengths to provide aid both during and after the incident. … Because of the pending litigation, we cannot go into further details at this time.”

Burris said guests who didn’t eat the salmon, such as former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, weren’t affected.

Former Oakland Mayor Elihu Harris wasn’t so lucky, saying that he had to go to a hospital emergency room the next day, was in a coma for two days and almost died.

Harris said when his wife called the hotel to see if there had been an outbreak of food poisoning or some other problem, “The hotel seemed to know nothing about it” and was “in denial.”

Alice Hoffman, the president of the NAACP’s California-Hawaii chapter, alleged that Sofitel employees and managers “were dismissive and inattentive” toward the people who were sick.

Hoffman said hotel management was enthusiastic to get the group’s business when the conference was arranged two years earlier but when the three-day conference started:

“It was a hostile environment from the moment we went in there.”

The suit alleges:

“The conduct of Sofitel, in its refusal to assist plaintiffs who were ill and needed urgent medical care, was oppressive, stemming from racial bigotry, violating plaintiffs’ right to equal treatment in a public accommodation under California state law.”

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