LATEST: Mogul won’t remove sunglasses, denied hotel check-in; claims possible racial profiling

Sept 04, 2018
Robert L. Johnson (RLJ Companies)

Bob Johnson says his RLJ Lodging Trusts owns more than 150 hotels. But it was a confrontation at a property he doesn't own that has led him to suggest racial profiling. 

Johnson, a Wellington resident and founder of Black Entertainment Television, walked out of the Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa on Aug. 24 after a supervisor at the Manalapan oceanfront hotel refused to check him in because he would not remove his prescription sunglasses. 

"You telling me George Clooney walks into that hotel," Johnson said Monday, "and (the clerk) is going to say, 'Mr. Clooney, would you take off your sunglasses?' " 

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The confrontation turned almost comical when Johnson demanded a receipt showing he hadn't been charged, lifted the sunglasses to read it and promptly was told he now could check in, Johnson told The Palm Beach Post.

No, he said. It was too late. And he said Monday he'll never patronize the Eau again. 

“All I'm suggesting is racial profiling is real and exists,” Johnson said. “Ask the brothers who sat in Starbucks. Ask me how many times I have been treated as if I were not an appropriate guest or an appropriate person to be at a place."

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A Manalapan police report said a supervisor called to say a black male at the front desk "would not remove his glasses for ID purposes and started giving the managers a hard time."

The report said Johnson was refunded and left. The report said police were there for 25 minutes. Manalapan Police Chief Carmen Mattox, reached Monday, declined to comment on the incident.

Johnson's Starbucks reference is to the April arrest of two black men at a Philadelphia coffee shop as they waited for a business associate. Johnson also said at times he himself has been standing in front of a hotel and been mistaken for a car valet.

Eau spokesman Nick Gold said Monday he reviewed security-camera video and agree the woman at the front desk couldn't confirm the man was Johnson. 

“With such a high-profile person checking in, we just want to be sure that it really is in fact him," Gold said.

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Gold said Eau is not considering changing its policy.

“Generally when a guest comes in, much like when you would travel to the airport, you need to identify yourself with a form of ID. If you’re wearing dark glasses and we can’t identify you, we will kindly ask you to remove your glasses,” Gold said.

Johnson's RLJ Companies is based in the Washington suburb of Bethesda, Md., but his primary home is in Wellington and he has a Florida driver license. On Aug. 24, he said, some friends were in town and he let them use his home and made plans to stay at the Eau.

The Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa in Manalapan sits at the east end of the Ocean Avenue along the Atlantic Ocean. (Bruce R. Bennett / The Palm Beach Post)

At about 5:30 p.m., he said, he came off a boat in Jupiter after a day of fishing and drove to the hotel. He wore his prescription sunglasses, which he said are for distance seeing, and a ball cap. 

He said he presented his credit card and driver license at the desk, and a supervisor named Christina "says to me, ‘Will you please take off your sunglasses?’ I think Christina is joking. She said, 'It's for your own security.' "

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Johnson said the supervisor told him it's a hotel policy, prompted by South Florida's rampant fraud and identity theft. Johnson said he's never had such a policy in any of his properties.

Johnson said the argument grew more heated and neither person would budge, and eventually Manalapan police were called. He said an officer tried to reason with him, but he was adamant, so the officer said if he wasn’t checking in, he'd have to leave. 

After Johnson slid up his sunglasses to see the receipt, he said, "Christina said, 'Oh, now I can see your face. Can I check you into the hotel?' I said, 'Hell, no!' "

Johnson said he has not heard from the hotel. He also denied the hotel's contention that his cap was low over his eyes.

Johnson ended up staying at the Embassy Suites near Palm Beach International Airport in West Palm Beach, which RLJ owns. He said he was checked in, sunglasses and all.