NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — While a landmark complex in Downtown Norfolk gets ready for a $30 million transformation, the developer is facing a lawsuit for racial discrimination in Missouri.
Cordish Companies of Baltimore has developed more than two dozen entertainment and restaurant venues from the East Coast to the Midwest. The family-owned firm has been in business for more than one hundred years.
Glen Cusimano alleges the nightclub he managed in Kansas City was operated by Cordish. In his lawsuit, Cusimano claims that the club would discriminate against African-American patrons. Cusimano worked at KC Power & Light District, which is listed as a development on Cordish’s website.
Among the claims in Cusimano’s lawsuit: that his superior ordered him to hire a white agitator, called a “rabbit”, to start arguments with black patrons to get them thrown out; that black customers were turned away even if they had reservations; that black patrons were screened on the phone if they “sounded black.”
Cusimano alleges he refused to sign a confidentiality agreement to keep quiet about his claims. Cordish says he was fired for striking a patron who was already in handcuffs.
In a statement to 10 On Your Side, Cordish calls Cusimano’s claims “false” and “meritless.”
Chief Operating Officer Zed Smith says Cordish would never tolerate any form of discrimination, and pointed out that a companion case filed by the same attorney has already been dismissed.
Smith says the lawsuit “intends to embarrass Cordish for monetary gain.”
A black clergy group in Philadelphia looked into Cordish, and the group’s report found no credible evidence of racism or discrimination, and concluded that Cordish has a strong record on diversity. But the report makes no mention of trying to contact Glen Cusimano.
Regardless of whether or not the allegations are true, Norfolk city officials say the project will move forward.
Councilman Andrew Protogyrou says the city was aware of the allegations. “That is something that was looked at; it was considered.”
Councilman Paul Riddick repeated his stance that Cordish’s hiring of an African-American general contractor for a similar project in Maryland validates the developer for him.
Protogyrou supports Cordish but says the developer must be held accountable when it comes to the area’s diversity.
“We believe that we have a seat at the table here and that Norfolk is a special place. Norfolk is not Philly and Norfolk is not Kansas City,” Protogyrou said. “I would hope that our partnership is strong enough that they understand the diversity of the city of Norfolk and our region as a whole, and we expect that they would.”
City spokeswoman Lori Crouch issued this brief statement: “Waterside Live! will be a wonderful destination where all are welcomed and all will enjoy.”
The groundbreaking for Waterside Live! is set for August 26.
The Cusimano lawsuit has a trial date of November 30 in the circuit court of Jackson County, Missouri.