|By Ben Schmitt, Detroit Free Press|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Oct. 21, 2004 - Thomas Zinn can go off to Iraq and fight a war, but he couldn't rent a room at two area Holiday Inn Express hotels.
For that reason, Zinn, 20, and his 18-year-old girlfriend, Theresa Taylor, both of Zeeland in western Michigan, enlisted the American Civil Liberties Union to file an age discrimination lawsuit Wednesday against companies that own the Holiday Inn Express in downtown Detroit and the former Holiday Inn Express in Birmingham.
Zinn, a member of the Army Reserve and a sophomore at Davenport University in Grand Rapids, and Taylor were in Detroit Aug. 4 to catch a Detroit Tigers game. When the game ended, they said, they were too tired to make the four-hour drive back to Zeeland, which is near Holland.
The couple tried to check into the former Holiday Inn Express on Woodward in Birmingham and said they were turned away because they weren't 21. They eventually found lodging at a hotel in Farmington Hills, Zinn said.
On Sept. 25, Taylor phoned the Holiday Inn Express in downtown Detroit in an attempt to reserve a room for an Oct. 1 visit. She claims she was told that unless she or Zinn were 21, they could not get a room.
Zinn said he talked with Taylor's parents, who suggested they contact the ACLU.
"It's ridiculous," Zinn said Wednesday. "I can go and die for my country but I can't get a hotel room when I'm completely exhausted because of my age."
Zinn said he expects to be shipped off to Iraq soon.
The lawsuit, filed in Wayne County Circuit Court, alleges that Holiday Inns violated the Michigan Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, which prohibits age discrimination.
"If a hotel has a problem with a guest's behavior, it should address the individual's behavior, not discriminate against an entire group of people based on unfair stereotypes," said Kary Moss, executive director of the ACLU of Michigan.
The Legislature passed an act in 2001 saying a hotel may require proof of age and refuse rooms to minors, but the legislation defines a minor as someone under 18.
"It's a very difficult situation for all concerned," said Steve Yencich, president and chief executive officer of the 430-member Michigan Hotel, Motel and Resort Association.
"There have been many examples of abuses when renting rooms to people under the age of 21. If there is underage drinking and some kids get on the road, there can be inherent liabilities to the hotel with that."
Chris Eng, vice president of Summit Group of Detroit LLC, which owns the downtown Holiday Inn Express, declined comment Wednesday.
The hotel in Birmingham was recently sold and is now called the Berkley Inn. Workers there were unfamiliar with the lawsuit.
In the suit, the two are asking for $1, lawyer fees, and for the hotel to stop turning away people who are older than 18 but under 21.
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