White Passing: Black Michigan Man Received No Call Backs for Interview When Using His Real Name, But His Luck Reversed After Changing His Name to John Jebrowski, Lawsuit Claims

A 27-year-old Black man from Detroit has filed a discrimination lawsuit against one of the city’s upscale boutique hotels, claiming he was extended a job interview only after changing the name on his résumé to pass himself off as a white man.

Dwight Jackson filed the action in Wayne County Circuit Court on July 3, alleging the Shinola Hotel rejected him when he applied initially under his real name. However, he was later told to come in for an interview after resubmitting his application with the name “John Jebrowski.” 

The lawsuit claims Jackson was denied employment in violation of Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination based on race, religion, sex, marital status, and other factors in employment. 

Black Job Applicant Sues Detroit Luxury Hotel, Claiming He Was Offered Interview Only After He Changed His Name to Sound More White: 'Only Reason Is the Color of His Skin'
Dwight Jackson applied for a job at the Shinola Hotel, but he did not get a call back until he submitted his application again under a white sounding name. (Photo: YouTube screenshot/ Fox 11 Los Angeles, Getty Images)

The lawsuit calls for a jury trial and seeks monetary damages from the Shinola Hotel, although the exact amount was not specified.

The Shinola Hotel, which opened in January 2019, is a relatively new addition to the city’s skyline, which has quickly gained recognition for its luxury accommodations, stylish design, and its affiliation with the revived Shinola brand, which is now known for quality watches, bicycles, and leather goods. (The Shinola trademark began in the 19th century as the name of a common shoe polish product.)

The downtown hotel is also a significant part of Detroit’s revitalization efforts following the city’s historic challenges with crime and urban blight, while the site’s impact has been widely recognized and celebrated in various travel and lifestyle publications.

In the lawsuit, Jackson claims he applied for various positions at the Shinola, including a receptionist role, between January and April 2024.

Jackson’s résumé, provided to the media by civil rights attorney Jon Marko, noted the young man’s steady employment history, including his experience as a “Front Desk Agent” at Detroit’s prestigious Marriott Westin Book Cadillac and David Whitney hotels.

“Mr. Jackson had applied for a job that he was eminently qualified for,” Marko told CNN, emphasizing that the Shinola Hotel never called him back.

In April 2024, after receiving no response to his initial applications, Jackson said he tried again, but this time he wanted to test the impact of changing his name to one that sounded more Caucasian.

He chose the alias John Jebrowski, and aside from the name, resubmitted the same résumé for similar positions. To further disguise himself, Jackson also put down different dates for when he worked for previous employers, the lawsuit states. 

When Jackson did this, he heard from the hotel almost immediately. 

As he expected, the Shinola Hotel offered him multiple interviews within the same week, unaware that they had fallen for a clever ruse by Jackson, according to the lawsuit.

When Jackson went in for the interview, he confronted the interviewer, revealing his true identity and asserting that he was initially shunned because his name sounded too Black, according to Marko.

Shortly after the sit-down, Jackson was informed that he didn’t qualify and was no longer a viable candidate for the position, the lawsuit states.

Marko noted that employment discrimination is a common problem in the United States, particularly in hiring practices where minorities or individuals with minority-sounding names are often excluded.

“It’s illegal to discriminate against someone in the hiring process because of the color of his skin,” Marko said. “The suit alleges (the hotel) illegally discriminated against Mr. Jackson by refusing to give him an interview or hire him for a position for which he was qualified and the only reason is the color of his skin.”

The lawsuit claims “Jackson established that the Defendant’s consideration of candidates was based on the racial appearance of the applicant’s name.”

“To be denied a job in 2024 in your hometown, for the color of your skin, goes beyond dollars and cents. It goes into the psyche of a person,” Marko told the network.

Sage Hospitality Group, the owner and operator of the Shinola Hotel, is being represented by Anna Stancioff, Senior Corporate Director of PR & Brand Communications.

In an email to CNN, she stated: “We take this allegation very seriously and do not tolerate discrimination of any kind. We are committed to fostering an inclusive workplace where everyone has the opportunity to succeed and are dedicated to building a diverse workforce that reflects the community.”

Name bias in hiring has become a covert form of racial discrimination that is much harder to detect and prove, according to a recent study from the National Bureau of Economic Research, which showed that résumés with ethnic-sounding names are often shuffled to the bottom of the pile. 

Marko underscored the difficulties in proving such discrimination in court but stressed the uniqueness of Jackson’s case due to the method he used to uncover a systemic issue — as most individuals would not typically scrutinize the hiring process after not receiving a callback.

Marko expressed confidence in the Wayne County court system to deliver justice, citing Michigan’s robust anti-discrimination laws as sufficient grounds to avoid filing a federal case in the matter.

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