Rocketing cost of race bias in the US

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The Independent Online
TWO race-bias cases, one resulting in the largest settlement of its kind in United States history, are signalling a new drive by President Bill Clinton's Justice Department to stamp out lingering discrimination against blacks, decades after the civil rights legislation of the 1950s and 1960s.

On Tuesday one of the country's largest fast-food chains, Denny's, agreed to pay dollars 46m ( pounds 30m) to settle complaints by thousands of black customers that they had been refused service and subjected to various other humilations by staff at many of the 1,500 Denny's restaurants.

The case made national headlines in April 1993, when six black agents from the President's secret- service detail were refused service at a Denny's outlet, and sued in a federal court in Maryland. That incident opened the floodgates, bringing to light episodes like that in a California Denny's, where a black girl was refused a free meal on her birthday, despite a special offer from the restaurant. Even a baptismal certificate with her date of birth was not sufficient to spare her insults from staff.

The settlement, which with legal fees will cost the company dollars 54m, was imposed under a 1964 anti-segregation law, and suggests that after 15 months without a boss and a policy, the department's civil rights division aims to make up for lost time with a vengeance.

Deval Patrick, who now holds the job for which Lani Guinier was first nominated and then withdrawn by Mr Clinton last year, hailed the Denny's outcome as proof that 'there will be a high price to pay for unlawful indignities, and the Justice Department will exact that price whenever the law is violated'.

The civil rights division has also taken the highly unusual step of asking a federal judge to order the sacking of Hulond Humphries, principal of a small public school in Alabama. Mr Humphries achieved notoriety earlier this year when he told a mixed- race student at his school that she was 'a mistake'.

Mr Humphries was first suspended by the local county school board, but was then reinstated without punishment.

Meanwhile, a Boston hotel, which last week allowed only white staff to look after the visiting Indian Prime Minister, Narasimha Rao and his delegation, has agreed to pay a dollars 70,000 fine to resolve a complaint brought by a Massachusetts anti-discrimination board.

How the edict arose is a mystery - the most plausible theory is that it was requested 'for security reasons' by Indian officials, worried at the risk of an assassination attempt by extremist Sikh groups.

But Robin Brown, manager of the Four Seasons Hotel, admits that his compliance was 'very, very stupid and unforgiveable'.