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North Carolina Looking Into 'Black Tax' At Charlotte's Ritz-Carlton

North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper in 2010.
Jim R. Bounds
North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper in 2010.

North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper has directed his Department of Consumer Affairs to look into reports that some African-American customers at the Ritz-Carlton in Charlotte were recently subjected to unwarranted fees.

We reported last week that the Ritz-Carlton had imposed a 15 percent surcharge for patrons in its Lobby Bar during the CIAA — Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association — tournament. The event involves basketball teams from historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) from around the region and brings tens of thousands of people each year to Charlotte.

They come to cheer for their teams, party, dine out and enjoy mini-reunions with friends from their own and rival colleges. The Charlotte Regional Visitor's Authority says CIAA week has infused almost $50 million into the local economy in recent years.

So some Ritz patrons were surprised to discover the hotel was adding a CIAA service charge to the bill in the Lobby Bar.

Local media and NPR called the Ritz for an explanation and eventually received this statement:

"We would like to apologize to any guests we may have offended by the addition of a service charge we implemented at a recent event in our lobby lounge. The service charge was not intended to single out any particular group or organization and we deeply regret any misunderstanding this may have caused. It is important for all guests to feel welcomed at our hotel and for them to receive the highest level of service, respect and hospitality we strive for every day."

The response didn't satisfy local authorities or media. On Tuesday, Special Deputy Attorney General Harriet Worley sent an inquiry to the Ritz-Carlton that her office shared with us.

"We've received a couple of complaints from consumers about this today," Public Information Officer Noelle Talley told NPR via email. Attorney General Cooper's office is encouraging consumers who may have paid the 15 percent fee to contact their office and fill out a complaint.

On Thursday, Charlotte City Council Chairman Michael Barnes expressed his disappointment with the surcharge, and the editorial page of the Charlotte Observer weighed in, calling for the Ritz-Carlton to take steps to "repair the service charge damage."

Patrice Wright, whose Ritz-Carlton receipt went viral, says she finally had a brief conversation with the hotel's manager this week. It felt, she says, more like an effort at damage control than a sincere apology. And Wright says it's up in the air whether she and her friends who used to make the Ritz-Carlton a regular stop will return.

We'll keep you posted.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Karen Grigsby Bates is the Senior Correspondent for Code Switch, a podcast that reports on race and ethnicity. A veteran NPR reporter, Bates covered race for the network for several years before becoming a founding member of the Code Switch team. She is especially interested in stories about the hidden history of race in America—and in the intersection of race and culture. She oversees much of Code Switch's coverage of books by and about people of color, as well as issues of race in the publishing industry. Bates is the co-author of a best-selling etiquette book (Basic Black: Home Training for Modern Times) and two mystery novels; she is also a contributor to several anthologies of essays. She lives in Los Angeles and reports from NPR West.