Sassounian: Armenian Vendors Sue Americana for Violating Their Civil Rights

I reported last month that the Americana shopping center in Glendale had banned three Armenian vendors from selling genocide-related T-shirts from their rented carts.

Shortly after my column was posted on the internet, generating a flood of complaints against the shopping center, Americana’s management issued the following statement on its Facebook page: “We would like to apologize to our cart tenants Tina Chuldzhyan, Alex Kodagolian, and Armin Hariri, for the regrettable misunderstanding regarding their cart’s merchandise. The cart tenant is more than welcome to have its product in question displayed on the cart.”

While Americana’s apology was welcome, this hastily posted note misrepresented its wrongful action by calling it a “misunderstanding.” Strangely, the shopping center did not bother to contact the tenants to inform them that the ban on the sale of genocide-related clothing had been lifted.

Rejecting this half-hearted apology, several hundred irate Armenians held a protest at Americana for its unacceptable behavior toward the three Armenian vendors. The Glendale News-Press covered the protest and the controversy in a series of three articles following my initial column on this subject.

It is shocking that a major corporation in Glendale would behave in such a callous manner against its large Armenian customer base—close to 50 percent of the city’s population—where 2 out of 5 City Council members, including Mayor Zareh Sinanyan, happen to be Armenian. Moreover, the city had accorded Americana’s owners generous financial subsidies to establish their business in Glendale.

Mayor Sinanyan had harsh words for Americana’s arrogance. He told the News-Press that he was dismayed with the “knee-jerk reaction” of Americana’s management and that the shopping center’s relationship with the Armenian community had been “tarnished.” The mayor also expressed surprise that Americana could be “so insensitive” toward a large portion of their shoppers who are Armenians.

On March 13, the three vendors, Chuldzhyan, Hariri (rapper “R-Mean”), and Kodagolian, on behalf of their company, Pentagon Records, filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court against Americana at Brand, Caruso Affiliated Holdings, and several other unnamed defendants, charging them with five different violations:

1) Constitutional and Civil Rights Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. Section 1983: violation of speech protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution;

2) Constitutional and Civil Rights Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. Section 1985(3): engaging in discriminatory conspiracy for the purpose of depriving plaintiffs of the equal protection of law;

3) Violation of Unruh Civil Rights Act, Civil Code Sections 51 & 52: denying of plaintiffs’ full and equal advantages, facilities, privileges, and services because of their Armenian ancestry; and defendants’ discriminatory, arbitrary, and unreasonable conduct, without any legitimate business interest;

4) Violation of California Business and Professions Code Section 17200: defendants have unfairly discriminated against plaintiffs and engaged in unlawful business practice;

5) Breach of Contract: Americana breached the agreement by not allowing the three vendors to sell merchandise related to Shop1915.com, which includes merchandise related to the Armenian Genocide.

The Armenian vendors asked the court to impose compensatory, general, punitive, and treble damages on Americana. Richard Foster, the plaintiffs’ attorney, stated that he had filed the lawsuit “due to the outrageous conduct of the defendants…[which] is distasteful and disrespectful not only to my clients, but also to the Armenian community at large, especially just weeks before the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide.”

Foster added that the “defendants are beneficiaries of considerable government subsidies and assistance, and, as such, must refrain from such discriminatory conduct.”

Only after the Armenian tenants filed the lawsuit did Americana sent a letter informing them that they are now “permitted to display for sale, and to sell the products related to the Armenian Genocide.”

The Armenian community and all Glendalians who care about protection of civil rights have to make it clear to Americana’s owners that they do not tolerate such unlawful and discriminatory behavior from a corporation that is the beneficiary of public funds and relies on an Armenian clientele for large portions of its sales revenue.

If Americana refuses to take remedial measures and fails to reassure community leaders that such misconduct will not be repeated, Glendale residents must boycott the shopping center, continue their protests, and urge the City Council to take decisive action, including the repeal of previously granted financial subsidies.

avatar

Harut Sassounian

California Courier Editor
Harut Sassounian is the publisher of The California Courier, a weekly newspaper based in Glendale, Calif. He is the president of the United Armenian Fund, a coalition of the seven largest Armenian-American organizations. He has been decorated by the president and prime minister of the Republic of Armenia, and the heads of the Armenian Apostolic and Catholic churches. He is also the recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor.

5 Comments

  1. I dissent. This is shameful.

    The plaintiffs and Odar lawyer have taken a small injustice and filed a ridiculous set of claims resulting in a loss of community sympathy and the appearance of greed. Mr. Foster has harmed the reputation of his clients and Armenians. They should have accepted the apology and asked quietly and modestly to be compensated for the few shirts they did not sell.

    42 USC Section 1983 applies to state actors and perhaps private parties controlled by state actors. The private stupid decision of a mall property manager was not on orders of the government.

    42 USC Section 1985 prohibits conspiracies to abridge federal civil rights. Again, there is no federal civil right at issue, and there does not appear to be a conspiracy either.

    The third claim is even more laughable. The Unruh Act prohibits discrimination based on status, such as ethnicity. It does not reach discrimination based on behavior, such as selling a shirt that some customers reportedly did not like. The fact that the mall leases to Armenians is proof that it does not discriminate in leasing space.

    Business and Professions Code Section 17200 also will fail. First, the plaintiffs must have an actual injury in fact. Second, the law, however broad, probably does not reach the mall’s instruction that a particular t shirt not be sold, no matter how idiotic the reason.

    The breach of contract claim will fail first because the mall withdrew and apologized for the instruction. It might work only if contract language protect’s the kiosk’s expectation expressly to sell the shirt. It is extremely unlikely that any such contract exists. More likely that the mall extended a limited license revocable without cause, and reserving the right to disapprove offensive merchandise. The government may not prohibit offensive speech in most places, but private property owners may. They also have no real damages from the momentary breach.

    Punitive damages are ridiculous. They are available only for malice, oppression or fraud. The law limits them to a small multiple of compensatory damages, which would be the profit on unsold shirts, if that.

    I can hear Turk lobby lawyers calling the mall offering to represent them for free. They will turn it into a case about the rights of our enemy, say Mr. Perincek, to shop without seeing messages about what his killer ancestors did.

    • “They will turn it into a case about the rights of our enemy,”

      Is that how you view Turks? The enemy?

  2. Hey, give the rest of us some credit. No matter what percentage of customers are Armenian, Americana is being insensitive and disrespectful to the ENTIRE community. All of us, Armenian or not, have the right to see a variety of merchandise and decide for ourselves what to buy. All of us, Armenian or not, should be offended and join in the protest.

  3. I’m certainly very glad that our three Armenian compatriots filed a lawsuit against the anti-Armenian, civil rights abusing Americana shopping center. And how amusing it is that only after this particular action did the Americana finally lift its ban on the sale of products related to the Armenian Genocide. This again shows what a hypocritical, crooked corporation the Americana really is. But then again, many of the other large U.S. corporations also fit this classification.

    I also hope that Glendale’s Armenian residents are boycotting the products and services of the Americana shopping center. By doing this, at least for a period of time, will send a very clear message to the Americana management that without Armenian customers (Armenians constitute around fifty percent of Glendale’s population), their sales revenues will sink enormously. As Glendale’s Mayor Sinanyan correctly stated, the Americana shopping center’s relationship with the Armenian community has been “tarnished.” Hopefully, the Americana’s scum management will learn their lesson from all of this.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*