By Jason Cruz
Northwest Asian Weekly
The next time you head to Sea-Tac Airport take notice of the concessions at the terminals. A lawsuit claims that the way the Port of Seattle issues its leases for businesses at Sea-Tac Airport is discriminatory. Three minority-owned businesses have filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court of Western Washington against the Port of Seattle, its Chief Executive Officer Tay Yoshitani, and the Executive Director of Sea-Tac Airport, Mark Reis. The businesses claim that they were given remote locations at the airport with less foot traffic and the Port of Seattle imposed expensive “build-out” requirements that were not imposed to the same extent as non-minority businesses. They also claim that when they did not comply with the Port of Seattle, they were subject to retaliation.
The lawsuit was filed in late March of this year by three food-and-beverage companies owned by minorities. Two of the companies, Concourse Concessions and Sunís, Inc., are owned by Asian Americans. The other company, Seatac Bar Group, is owned by African Americans. The three companies participate in the Disadvantaged Business Entities (DBE) and Airport Concession Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (ACDBE) programs in which the companies are given an opportunity to compete for concession opportunities and for Department of Transportation-assisted contracts. The Port of Seattle receives federal funding to participate in the DBE and ACDBE programs. The companies claim that the Port restructured its concession program into three tiers after its contract with HMS Host International, Inc. ended in December 2004. All three companies were placed in a less- advantageous tier than other businesses vying for space in the Central Terminal of the airport. The businesses were placed in Concourse A of Sea-Tac which is frequented less by travelers. Their leases also made it difficult for them to negotiate changes, modifications, or deviations from their sublease terms according to the complaint. This was key as the businesses were required to bring electricity, gas, water, and communications to their space. However, other businesses receiving favorable spots in the Central Terminal of Sea-Tac already had the needed infrastructure and did not have to expend money to build out its spaces as did the plaintiffs.
The lawsuit claims that they have suffered substantial economic losses as a result of the discriminatory practice by the Port of Seattle. The complaint infers that since the businesses participate in a federally funded program benefiting minorities, the Port of Seattle has not treated them as it would other businesses.
Plaintiffs claim that they attempted to talk to the Port of Seattle about the disparity between their businesses and those that operate in the Central Terminal. In their complaint, the plaintiffs allege that the Port of Seattle arranged a meeting with its attorneys but the plaintiffs state that the Port of Seattle’s attorneys had prepared legal affidavits for them to sign stating that they were not subject to racial discrimination by the Port. Plaintiffs refused to sign the affidavits. As a result, the plaintiffs claim retaliation has been made against them for not going along with the Port of Seattle’s wishes. A part of this retaliation includes derogatory statements per the lawsuit. Port of Seattle staffers have made “verbal and written harassing and derogatory comments” to plaintiffs including the claim by one Port employee that the plaintiffs were “playing the race card.”
The lawsuit survived a motion to dismiss, filed by attorneys for defendants. Thus, the lawsuit continues. The Complaint seeks to sue not only the Port of Seattle, but Yoshitani and Reis personally citing that they violated the civil rights of the owners of the companies due to their “reckless or callous indifference” of their civil rights.
The plaintiffs seek an unspecified amount of money from the Port of Seattle, Yoshitani, and Reis. (end)
Jason Cruz can be reached at email@example.com.