President-elect Donald Trump on Wednesday, Jan. 18, announced his top pick for assistant to the president for Intergovernmental and Technology Initiatives — a man whose real estate management company is currently embroiled in controversy over allegations of overt racial discrimination.
Trump tapped company exec Reed Cordish, president of Entertainment Concept Investors — which owns and operates bars, restaurants and nightclubs across the U.S. — for a spot in his Cabinet this week. Cordish and his million-dollar family, who also own ECI’s parent company, have close ties with the president-elect’s family and New York Magazine even reported that Trump’s daughter Ivanka set Cordish up with his current wife.
But all isn’t peachy keen in the Cordish camp, as ECI is currently facing two separate lawsuits from African-American patrons who say they were discriminated against at one of Cordish’s nightclubs, according to The Daily Beast.
In 2014, Dante Combs and Adam Williams sued the real estate exec in a $5 million class-action racial-discrimination suit, where they alleged they were beaten and harassed by white men employed by the Cordish company. They said the beatings were part of Cordish’s efforts to “lighten up” his clubs and keep Black patrons away.
The Daily Beast reported that the class-action suit stemmed from a real estate project in Kansas City, Missouri, where Cordish teamed up with Trump’s son-in-law and White House adviser Jared Kushner on a building in the city’s Power and Light District. In multiple court documents, plaintiffs said this area was more commonly known as the “Power and White District” due to the owner’s alleged history of racial discrimination.
Christina Martinez, a former floor manager at Cordish-owned club Tengo, testified in court that “Reed Cordish’s code words for Blacks was ‘urbans’ or ‘Canadians.'” She went on to say that she and other workers were encouraged to use code words in order to single out the Black customers.
Reed wasn’t the only Cordish company exec who didn’t want African-Americans in his clubs, however. According to The Daily Beast, ECI vice president Jake Miller also went out of his way to exclude Black patrons. Martinez testified that, one time, she overheard Miller demand the DJ to “get that fucking n-gger music off here.”
Former Black employee David Skyrm said Miller even threatened him after seeing too many Black people in one of the clubs.
“He made the comment that if he ever saw this many n-ggers in the building again, he would chain the doors and burn it down with me inside,” Skyrm testified. “He was embarrassed and horrified to see what we had done to his club.”
Former employees also alleged that one way club owners would try to “lighten up” their establishments was by hiring a “a rabbit,” a white individual whose sole purpose was to single out and pick fights with African-American club-goers. Martinez said this person was usually rewarded with free drinks from the bar.
One “rabbit” even testified in the case, according to The Daily Beast.
In a sworn affidavit, instigator Thomas Alexitch said he was hired at the Cordish-owned Mosaic club to “start altercations with certain groups of people.”
“By starting these altercations, I ensured that these groups of people would be kicked out of the club,” Alexitch wrote. “I would estimate that 90 percent of the people I started altercations with were African-Americans.”
Club-goer Shelton McElroy also filed a lawsuit against Cordish in 2015, accusing one of his clubs in Louisville, Kentucky, of using its dress code to discriminate against him because of his race. McElroy said when he entered the club, the hip-hop music that was playing quickly changed to country. Soon after, he said a bouncer approached him and told him his slim-fit khakis were “sagging” and thus in violation of the dress code.
In his complaint, McElroy said he felt he was targeted because there was a group of white men dancing shirtless on the bar as a bartender poured drinks in their mouths, yet the bouncer didn’t say anything to them. He said there was a brief altercation between him and the bouncer, after which he was thrown out of the club and booked for second-degree criminal trespassing and disorderly conduct.
“We should be talking about whether or not [Cordish] should have to dissolve his business because he’s an outright racist,” McElroy told The Daily Beast. “We shouldn’t be having a conversation about whether or not he should be promoted to working in the White House.”
The Trump administration denied the allegations of racism made by the plaintiffs and has since released this statement:
“Reed has been a vice president with his family business for over 20 years. The company has been nationally lauded for taking on the toughest urban redevelopments and revitalizing urban cores. They have been vetted by government agencies across the country, including being awarded gaming licenses in multiple states. The allegations referenced against the company were determined to be baseless and dismissed by summary judgment with no finding of wrongdoing. In fact Cordish has been recognized from leading civil-rights groups as a model company for inclusiveness. In its 100-year history, including welcoming over 50 million visitors per year to its developments and with a workforce of over 10,000 employees, the company has a truly exemplary civil-rights record without a single finding against the company or its principals.”