In customer service, hospitality, food industries and beyond, it is often said that the “customer is always right.” But what if they are racist and decide to spew insults at an employee who is merely trying to assist them or follow company policy? A Black hotel receptionist found herself in those very shoes last April while working at the City Club Hotel in New York City. According to The New York Post, Michelle Rajacic walked into the hotel after midnight on Apr. 6, 2018, demanding a room key. Linda Shell, who was working the desk that night, became the target of racial slurs after denying Rajacic because she could not provide a proper form of ID. Instead, she tried to offer a credit card, which had her name on it, but Shell said it was not sufficient.
In a video taken by Shell, which has been circulating the net, the woman can be seen hurling insults at her. She said, “I have my fu**ing ID you fu**ing piece of sh**. Fu** off you fu**ing a**hole. Welcome to your fu**ing world. You just work here. I’m paying you for your fu**ing job.” She also called Shell the N-word and “ghetto,” to which Shell replied, “I’m not from the ghetto, sorry.” Aside from attempting to challenge Shell’s patience and composure, the woman also shouted, “Actually my boyfriend’s fu**ing family pays you.”
It was then that Shell displayed an exemplary level of restraint and professionalism. In a very non-confrontational tone, Shell said to the racist woman, “You’re not paying me” followed by, “Ma’am, all I need is an ID.”
Rajacic allegedly spat at and assaulted Shell. “After, she kept spitting. I was getting more upset, because that is the lowest thing you can do to someone. I said, ‘OK, ma’am, it’s time for you to go,” Shell said. “I grabbed her arm and started leading her to the front desk. She then broke her cellphone across my face.” Shell has filed a lawsuit against the woman for unspecified damages and no longer works for the company.
The woman was arrested for the incident and was eventually convicted of third-degree assault. However, when Rajacic was released from jail, the hotel allegedly gifted her with a free room, which prompted Shell to quit. The hotel has denied these claims.
Unfortunately, parts of this encounter are reminiscent of the Black man who worked at the Holiday Inn Express hotel in Austin, Texas and quickly became a meme back in June. While his response to racism at his workplace prompted laughter in many spaces, the fact remains that he was belittled while working and opted to take the high road. At what point, if any, can this be the road less traveled?
In case a refresher is needed, Craig Brooks denied service to a white woman after he overheard her call him the N-word while on the phone. However, she was unaware that he heard her. When she returned to the desk to be helped, she was immediately rejected. She then pleaded with the hotel clerk, revealing that her mother had just died. Brooks confronted the woman about her use of the racial slur and after she apologized, he unapologetically quipped, “You weren’t sorry when you said it on the phone.” Her additional cries and pleas were later met with, “I understand that, but it’s above me now.” Brooks then directed the racist to the nearby Best Western.
Shell and Brooks’ experiences with racism at the workplace and their reactions bring into question an obligation to remain calm, composed, and professional, perhaps a policy of their employer. But also, the need to defend yourself in a professional manner. With that said, “the customer is always right” motto needs some serious revamping, as Black employees are often attacked verbally with racial slurs, which is not right at all.