A Jackson County judge has thrown out an incendiary lawsuit alleging that the owner of the Power & Light District discriminated against black patrons and ginned up disturbances as a pretext to eject them from its bars and restaurants.
Jackson County Circuit Judge Joel P. Fahnestock last week granted motions for summary judgment filed by The Cordish Companies of Baltimore and other defendants, ruling that plaintiff Glenn E. Cusimano had failed to substantiate his claims.
Cusimano sued Cordish and the other defendants in February 2014 after he was fired as general manager of the Mosaic Lounge, a bar in the Power & Light District. Cordish said it had no choice but to terminate him after he struck a handcuffed patron during an altercation at the bar.
Cusimano, who amended his original lawsuit three separate times, was seeking $10 million in damages for multiple counts of discrimination, retaliation, defamation and other claims. In a highly unusual move, Cordish fired back with a racketeering and defamation suit of its own against Cusimano’s attorneys, contending they knowingly or with reckless disregard made false statements to the media that damaged its reputation.
In August 2014, a federal judge dismissed Cordish’s lawsuit, finding that Cusimano’s lawyers’ were acting within the scope of representing their client in pending litigation.
In ruling against Cusimano last week, Fahnestock, in three separate summary judgment orders, found there was no legal basis for his claims. Fahnestock also rebuked Cusimano’s attorneys for what she said was their repeated failure to observe court rules and deadlines.
The dismissal marks the second time Cordish has prevailed in a lawsuit charging it engaged in racial profiling in the Power & Light District. Last June, U.S. District Judge Ortrie Smith threw out a class action lawsuit filed against Cordish by two African Americans, Dante A.R. Combs and Adam S. Williams. Both claimed they were victims of racial discrimination. Smith found no evidence to buttress their claims.
Linda Dickens, an attorney for Cusimano, said she was disappointed with Fahnestock’s rulings but said a possible settlement with Cordish was in the works.
Cordish officials could not immediately be reached for comment on the latest developments in the case.
Cusimano, an African American, had claimed that Cordish routinely created disturbances using so-called “rabbits,” white insiders who deliberately provoked patrons, as a ruse to eject black customers. He said he himself was a victim of the tactic and that the white man he is alleged to have hit was a rabbit.
Cordish adamantly denied the allegation and accused Cusimano and his attorneys of trying to extort the company.
In her ruling dismissing Cusimano’s defamation claims, Fahnestock said it was undisputed that Cusimano struck a handcuffed patron. She also said that it was uncontested that Cusimano had pleaded guilty to wire fraud in 2005, did not disclose that conviction to Mosaic Lounge and had an outstanding warrant in Greene County, Missouri, for passing a bad check.
Cusimano had charged that a Cordish official defamed him when he related those things to members of the Kansas City media two days after he filed his lawsuit. Fahnestock ruled that because truth is an absolute defense to a defamation claim, Cusimano’s defamation claims had no legal basis.
Fahnestock also dismissed Cusimano’s claims against First Response, Inc., a company hired by Cordish to provide security in the Power & Light District.
Cordish was at the center of earlier allegations that it discriminated againt black patrons through its enforcement of a dress code. Cordish denied the allegation but modified it and settled a complaint filed by The Kansas City Human Relations Department in 2010.
Dan Margolies, editor of the Heartland Health Monitor team, is based at KCUR. You can reach him on Twitter @DanMargolies.