Turgenia "Tonya" Knight, the mother of former University of Kentucky basketball player Brandon Knight, has sued Lexington's Hyatt Regency Hotel and the hotel's operations director, Jeff Westin, for discrimination, battery, assault and defamation stemming from an incident that allegedly occurred Jan. 7 at the hotel's bar.
Brandon Knight now plays for the Detroit Pistons.
In the suit, filed this week in Fayette Circuit Court, Tonya Knight says Westin tried to detain her and grabbed her arm, causing a bruise, after telling her she could not sell her book, Diary of a Basketball Mom, on the hotel's premises. Knight says she went to the bar to socialize with friends before attending a UK game.
Knight, who lives in Lexington, says in the suit that when she pulled away from Westin in an attempt to leave with her friends, he said, "That's the problem with you people." Knight says that when she asked what "people" he was referring to, Westin used the n-word.
"We are aware of this incident. We take the allegations that have been made very seriously and we are conducting a thorough investigation," Hyatt Regency general manager Larry Bell said Thursday. "It is premature to comment on our investigation before it is complete. Our hotel values the opportunity of serving UK fans when they attend ball games at Rupp Arena, and we do not take this longstanding tradition lightly."
Bell said Westin was still employed as the hotel's operations director.
According to the suit, Knight had brought boxes containing copies of her book to the hotel bar. She also had copies in her purse. She says a friend approached her and asked to buy three books. She says she pulled two out of her purse and went to the bar to set the boxes down so she could get another copy. She also ordered a drink from the bartender, she says.
Soon afterward, Westin approached and told her she could not sell books at the hotel, according to the suit. Knight says she told him she understood and would not undertake any more sales. Westin then told her she had to remove the boxes of books from the hotel's premises, according to the suit. Knight says she did not want to have to take the books to her car, then return to the complex to attend the game at Rupp Arena. The bartender offered to store the boxes under the bar, she says.
Knight says she then left the hotel with her friends, and as they tried go out the front door, Westin interceded and told her again she was not allowed to sell books on hotel premises. Knight says that she told him she understood and that she was leaving. Westin tried to detain her and told her she was going to listen to what he had to say, the suit says. It was at this point that Westin grabbed Knight's arm and the verbal exchange, including Westin's use of the racial slur, occurred, according to the suit.
Knight says Westin shouted at her, saying he was going to have her arrested, and followed her out of the hotel, continuing to shout.
Eventually police came to the hotel and retrieved Knight's property, according to the suit.
Knight says she had met friends for pregame socializing at the Hyatt Regency on previous occasions and had brought copies of her book, which she sold upon request to friends, other individuals and hotel employees. She says no one informed her that hotel management did not allow selling the books, and she says hotel employees had stored and helped her with the books, in addition to purchasing several.
"She was not there to sell a book; she was there to meet friends, socialize prior to a basketball game," Pamela Perlman, Knight's attorney, said Thursday.
"This is beyond the bounds of what you expect in this day and age," the attorney said. "She was embarrassed. She was infuriated. And she doesn't want this to happen to her or anyone in the future."
In the part of the suit that alleges defamation, Knight says Westin's statements "were made in public, witnessed by a large number of people at a time when the Hyatt lobby was at or near capacity." Knight says Westin's statements have damaged her reputation by subjecting her to public ridicule on the basis of her race.
In addition to discrimination, battery, assault and defamation, Knight is suing for intentional infliction of emotional distress.
She is seeking compensatory and statutory damages, attorney's fees and a jury trial.
Reach Jennifer Hewlett at (859) 231-3308 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3308.