Explosive allegations have been made in a lawsuit against the city's hand-picked operator of the downtown entertainment district.
The lawsuit alleges that Cordish Co. aggressively sought to keep blacks from its clubs and restaurants including hiring two white men to start fights with black patrons. Cordish vehemently denies the allegations.
The allegations are part of a wrongful termination and defamation lawsuit filed by a former Power and Light manager in Jackson County Circuit Court. Glen Cusimano, who worked at Mosiac Lounge, is seeking more than $10 million in damages as well as attorney fees.
The former employee claims that management deemed that he was too welcoming to black patrons who came to the district.
"In order to accomplish its goal to 'lighten up' Power and Light, (Mosiac Lounge) decided it had to remove Cusimano as a highly visible and welcoming African-American presence," the lawsuit alleges.
Cordish said the claims are fantasy.
"Please be advised that Mr. Cusimano's accusations are complete fabrications and 100 percent false," Bob Fowler, an attorney for Cordish, said in a statement. He added that Cordish will file a counter claim against Cusimano.
Cordish has repeatedly come under fire for his treatment of black customers and questions about its dress code. The company has always denied any discriminatory behavior.
The lawsuit, which was filed Thursday, says Cusimano was hired as a security guard at a Power and Light district bar in 2009. He said he later became general manager of two bars, and said he operated as a security liaison for the district with among others the Kansas City Police Department.
"Almost immediately upon hiring, Cusimano began to notice racially discriminatory practices and procedures at clubs and throughout the living room (the district's open area). In particular, he observed that African-Americans were more frequently turned away from clubs or forced to wait longer in line than were non-blacks," the lawsuit alleges.
He said security guards were ordered to harass black patrons including questioning their attire when no dress-code violations existed while letting similarly dressed white patrons enter without question.
In his lawsuit, Cusimano claims when he became a general manager that his supervisor told him "to get 'thugs' out of his clubs," and that his supervisor, Jake Miller, would make derogatory remarks about black males.
"Cusimano believes he was being instructed to keep blacks out his living room and his clubs, and that Miller regarded all African-American males as 'thugs,'" according to the lawsuit. He also claims that superiors didn't like how the hip-hop music at Mosiac attracted a largely African-American crowd.
Some of the former Mosiac employee's most explosive allegations involve his claim that in summer of 2012 that Miller ordered him to employ "rabbits." They were white men who would start fights with groups of blacks in order to get them kicked out of the entertainment district, he claims.
The "rabbits" had to be willing to get free drinks and occasional cash payments in exchange for provoking black patrons. The "rabbits" would have to make sure they fought in front of security guards and limit the physical aspect of the confrontations to ensure written reports didn't have to be filed.
"As soon as the argument started, security would move in and eject the participants from the living room," according to the lawsuit. "While the rabbit would also be rejected, he only had to walk around the corner and come in a different entrance."
This ploy was used up to 30 times in the summer of 2013, the lawsuit alleges.
He said when people who sounded like they were African-American called Mosiac for reservations that they were told the restaurant was booked. He claims if their voice was "unrecognized as black" and they showed up then they were told that there was a mistake and they had no reservation or that they had called a different club.
Cusimano has had his own problems with the law, but he claims that Cordish set him up for his most recent legal issues.
Almost a decade ago, Cusimano pleaded guilty to federal wire fraud and served nine months in prison.
Cordish didn't know about his felony conviction, the district's attorney said.
"He is someone with a documented history of a felony fraud conviction, a history which he failed to disclose to Mosaic. He also has an outstanding warrant for his arrest for fraud in Greene County, MO," Fowler said in his statement.
On Aug. 10, 2013, Cusimano hurt his shoulder while breaking up a fight. He had surgery on Aug. 16. He said he was pressured to return to work before he was physically ready and while he was still on prescription pain medicine.
He said he returned to work on Aug. 23 when he wasn't ready and was medicated. He said he was attacked by two men that he contends were "rabbits" that set him up at his employer's behest, so that they could fire him. He said he received 30 blows to the head and couldn't protect himself due to his shoulder injury and pain medication.
"While the policemen later were writing tickets to give the assailants, one of the men, already handcuffed, rushed at Cusimano and tried to head butt him," the lawsuit claims. "Cusimano defended himself by pushing the attacker's head away."
Police issued Cusimano a municipal ticket for assault.
"Despite eyewitness reports to the contrary, and despite the fact that the police officers did not clearly see the incident, and so indicated in their report, Cusimano was issued a municipal ticket for assault," the lawsuit says.
He said Cordish's security firm alleged that Cusimano had attacked a helpless man in handcuffs, which Cusimano denies. He said they did this without interviewing him or an eyewitness who came to Cusimano's aid.
He claims he suffered further injury and humiliation.
Cordish had no choice but to fire Cusimano, Cordish maintains.
"As an employee of Mosaic Nightclub, he was observed by officers of the Kansas City Police Department and others striking a defenseless patron, and was arrested and charged with assault by the police department for his actions," Fowler said. "As a result of the above, Mosaic Nightclub had no choice but to terminate Mr. Cusimano's employment. Mosaic will vigorously defend Mr. Cusimano's outrageous allegations and intends to file its own counterclaims against Mr. Cusimano."
After he was fired, Cusimano said Cordish representatives tried to get him to sign a confidentiality agreement. After he refused, he said Miller threatened to have Cusimano prosecuted for stealing $30,000 from Mosiac, which Cusimano contends was a fabrication. He said he was later told in writing that he was fired because of the altercation and that he failed to adhere to Mosiac's "cash-handling procedures."
He said Cordish Executive Director Nick Benjamin offered to rehire him with a guarantee of a job for a year if he would sign the confidentiality agreement, so he wouldn't disclose "the massive civil rights violations" at the Power and Light district.
Cusimano said he has been unable to get another job even though he is qualified because of the false allegations made against him.
"Cordish also decided it had to terminate Cusimano because it knew that Cusimano would not tolerate the additional efforts Cordish was preparing to undertake to 'lighten up' Power and Light," the lawsuit claims.
Linda Dickens, attorney for Cusimano, said her client's "dark, welcoming face needed to be removed" from the district. She explained why her client participated in the racist actions.
"Frankly, he wanted to keep his job, and he was told that if you can't do this, we'll find somebody who can," she said.
Here is Cordish's statement in its entirety:
"Mr. Cusimano was an employee of Mosaic Lounge. Please be advised that Mr. Cusimano's accusations are complete fabrications and 100 percent false. He is someone with a documented history of a felony fraud conviction, a history which he failed to disclose to Mosaic. He also has an outstanding warrant for his arrest for fraud in Greene County, MO.
"As an employee of Mosaic Nightclub, he was observed by officers of the Kansas City Police Department and others striking a defenseless patron, and was arrested and charged with assault by the police department for his actions.
"As a result of the above, Mosaic Nightclub had no choice but to terminate Mr. Cusimano's employment. Mosaic will vigorously defend Mr. Cusimano's outrageous allegations and intends to file its own counterclaims against Mr. Cusimano."
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