Thursday Jun 18 2009
$1 million lawsuit targets casino
By: Cody Kitaura, News Messenger Correspondent
Thunder Valley says woman banned because of safety concern
What started with a gag postcard has turned into a million-dollar lawsuit for 71-year-old Lucy Taylor. On June 1, the lifelong Lincoln resident filed a lawsuit against Station Casinos, Inc., the operator of Thunder Valley Casino, complaining of false imprisonment, discrimination and civil-rights violations related to a June 2007 incident in which Taylor was banned from the casino. According to documents filed with the Placer County Superior Court, Taylor gave a Thunder Valley cook a “gag postcard” from Hawaii featuring “overweight Hawaiians.” The cook was offended and complained to management, according to the documents. Taylor’s attorney, Strowbridge Richardson, said the casino overreacted. “(The joke) was all blown out of proportion,” Richardson said. Howard Dickstein, an attorney who represents the United Auburn Indian Community but who is not working on this case, said casino management didn’t want to ban Taylor from the casino but did so for safety reasons. “In its opinion, the tribe had concerns about the safety of its employees,” Dickstein said. “It’s as simple as that.” Dickstein said the attorney working directly on this case would not be available for comment. He declined to explain the types of safety concerns the casino had, but in the court documents, Richardson says the cook involved made claims of sexual harassment and stalking. “(Thunder Valley cook) Von Martin used his position to falsely accuse (Taylor) of ‘sexual harassment’ and claimed that (Taylor) had ‘stalked’ him …” according to documents submitted to the court. On the day Taylor was banned from the casino, security staff blocked her vehicle from leaving and forced her and her 77-year-old husband to come to separate locations to be “‘processed’ off the premises,” the document said. “During this time, (casino staff) used threats, coercion, and threatened criminal prosecution,” according to the document. Richardson said the casino treated Taylor “like a criminal.” “They could’ve just sent her a letter,” he said. “They didn’t have to treat her the way they did.” Dickstein said he had no personal knowledge of how Taylor was escorted off the casino property. Richardson said the event caused Taylor “extreme emotional distress,” and is suing for $1 million in punitive damages. “For a lot of elderly people, Thunder Valley is their country club,” Richardson said. “She hasn’t been able to hang around her friends.” Richardson said he’s working to try to resolve the dispute outside of court and added Taylor was reluctant to file a lawsuit in the first place. “She wrote volumes of letters to them trying to get this resolved before she came to me,” Richardson said. Dickstein said the casino will respond within 30 days but called the claims “without merit.” “There is no financial interest the tribe has in excluding paying patrons so there can be no underlying motive here,” Dickstein said. According to the complaint, Taylor suffered “humiliation, mental anguish, and severe emotional and physical distress …” as a result and incurred hospital expenses for treatment of these problems. The lawsuit also asks for an unspecified amount to pay for hospital bills. It lists anxiety, nausea, blurred vision, migraines, elevated blood pressure and asthma as some of the symptoms she had following the incident. The lawsuit asks for compensation for hospital and medical expenses, "the exact amount unknown," according to the complaint. According to the formal complaint, Taylor was close to being allowed back to THunder Valley Casino in March until Martin "threatened to file an unfair labor practice against Station Casinos if management allowed (Taylor) to revisit the casino." Taylor declined to comment for this story.