Harrah’s New Orleans Should Settle Lawsuit Brought by Barred Black Woman, Lawyers Advise

Posted on: December 17, 2021, 07:00h. 

Last updated on: December 17, 2021, 08:21h.

Deja Harrison, a woman barred from entering Harrah’s New Orleans after a confrontation over proper identification, has filed a lawsuit against the casino. As the incident gains more media attention, a law professor urged the casino to settle out of court, while another says the case should serve as a lesson to other businesses.

When reached by Casino.org, a Harrah's spokeswoman declined to comment on the lawsuit
The IDs Deja Harrison presented to Harrah’s New Orleans, pictured above. Harrison’s attorney has filed a lawsuit against the company after it denied her entry to the gaming floor. (Image: The Times-Picayune)

In early October, Harrison, age 23 and an Army officer, was barred from entering the casino after the legitimacy of her IDs was questioned by casino staff. The interaction was filmed and later gained attention on Twitter.

During the interaction, Harrison showed casino staff two forms of ID, including her military ID. But the information on the IDs did not match. On the recording, the staff member told Harrison he did not believe the ID was hers.

Harrison is now suing in a state court. Last month, her attorney filed the lawsuit in Louisiana’s Orleans Parish district court.

While the future of the case is uncertain, Robert Jarvis, a law professor at Florida’s Nova Southeastern University’s Shepard College of Law, shared his legal advice about the incident with Casino.org. According to Jarvis, Harrah’s may opt to settle the legal action before it goes to a jury.

“Unless Harrah’s is absolutely convinced that it did everything right, it would be wise to settle this case,” Jarvis advised.

Discrimination Under the Law

Deja Harrison posted a video of the dispute online
Robert Jarvis, a law professor at Florida’s Nova Southeastern University’s Shepard College of Law, shown here. Jarvis recommends that Harrah’s settle a lawsuit brought by a Black woman who was denied entry to the casino floor. (Image: NSU)

Under Louisiana law, businesses cannot deny services or access to facilities based on race, color, religion, sex, disability, or age, Jarvis referenced.

In this case, Harrah’s has the right to ban Harrison’s entry into the casino if they believed she was underage.

The issue here, however, is a conflict between the casino’s legal requirement to check patron’s ages and Harrison’s legal right to have entry into the casino without any discrimination based on her race, age, or other categories.

The attorney representing Harrison says the incident wasn’t about age. He says the incident is a clear example of racial bias.

On the recording of the interaction, the casino employee is heard saying, “I’m not saying that the ID is fake. I’m saying that I don’t think that it’s you.”

The casino worker “just jumped to his own stereotypes that a Black woman like Deja couldn’t rise to her rank that quickly,” DeSimone recently told Business Insider.

Basically, the plaintiff must use statements and evidence to prove their case.

Harrah’s Policy

According to Harrah’s previous statements, Harrison’s barring was based on age verification and Harrah’s ID policy.

Under Harrah’s New Orleans policy, staff must check IDs for anyone who appears under 30. The casino uses an electronic reader and staff is trained to evaluate the information, according to the company.

Individuals walk outside of Harrah’s New Orleans, above. (Image: neworleans.com)

“In this case, Ms. Harrison, who appeared to be under 30, presented a Louisiana driver’s license that did not clear our electronic verification system,” a Harrah’s statement read.

“When asked for an alternative form of identification, she presented a military ID card, but the information on the military ID card did not match the information she had verbally communicated to our security officers. As a result, in compliance with applicable gaming regulations, our security officers did not permit Ms. Harrison to enter the casino,” the statement continued.

The information from this statement may be Harrah’s best legal defense, Jarvis advises.

Harrah’s best option is to state they were “concerned that Harrison might be underage and it could not take the chance that she was telling the truth, because it would be putting its license in jeopardy if Harrison turned out to be underage,” Jarvis said.

A company spokesperson did not respond to questions from Casino.org about the lawsuit.

Avoiding Inadvertent Racial Profiling

Jonathan Feingold, a lawyer and associate professor at Boston University School of Law, highlights the ongoing importance of training staff to avoid inadvertent racial profiling. In this case, he advises businesses to prominently display all forms of acceptable identification.

So long as a customer provides one of the listed forms, they can enter. If a question arises, avoid treating anyone with heightened suspicion because of their race, gender, and/or age, Feingold said.

Casino staff should ask themselves a key question:

If this person were a white man (as opposed to a Black woman), would I be more trusting, warm, and receptive,” Feingold told Casino.org.

“If the answer is yes, or even if the question causes the security guard to pause, that indicates they might be treating the customer adversely because of their race and/or gender.  The employee should adjust their behavior accordingly,” Feingold continued.

Feingold says that the incident shines a light on larger issues in the industry.

This incident shows “how crucial it is to engage all customers with respect and to implement policies designed to avoid even inadvertent instances of racial profiling,” Feingold said. That means creating an atmosphere where all customers feel valued and welcome.

Feingold advises a revision of standards for incidents such as this.

“This can start with how a business asks for identification — [and] at a minimum, businesses should ensure that no one is disrespected, devalued, or otherwise made to feel unwelcome because of their racial identity. From the video and Army 2nd Lt. Deja Harrison’s account, Harrah’s did not live up to that minimal standard here,” Feingold said.

Others File Racial Bias Suits

Certainly, there are other examples of individuals barred from casinos over the recent years.

In 2019, Philadelphia 76ers star, Ben Simmons accused Australia’s Crown Casino of racially profiling after staff asked for his ID. Simmons claimed that staff only asked for IDs from Black individuals in his group, but not the white individuals. Crown denied the allegation.

“Crown’s internal security policy requires our security officers to check identification of those persons they believe to be under the age of 25,” a statement from Crown said. “This is an enhanced safeguard to ensure that no one under the age of 18 is permitted entry to the Casino Floor as required by law.”

In 2017, the rapper Meek Mill said he was denied entrance into the Las Vegas Cosmopolitan hotel based on race. The hotel told Mill that they had reached capacity per the fire marshal code. Meek Mill publicly declared that he would file suit against Cosmo, but eventually dropped the suit after the casino issued an apology in 2019.

In 2019, a couple filed suit for racial profiling after visiting the Aria Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. The couple, Rhodney and Sundra Henderson were not barred from entry; however, Mr. Henderson was accused of threatening a white couple after misplacing his cell phone and asking the nearby couple if they had seen it, according to press reports.

The guard then told Mr. Henderson to leave the premises. Several guards then attacked Mr. Henderson, handcuffed, and interrogated him, according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit alleges the guards treated the couple differently than other customers because of their race and cites multiple claims for damages totaling more than $50,000.

The lawsuit also cites other racial profiling incidents at the MGM and The Mirage.  The case appears to be still pending.