Armenian Vendors Sue Americana for Violating Their Civil Rights

Harut Sassounian

BY HARUT SASSOUNIAN

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 sale of genocide-related clothing was 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% of city’s population — where two out of five 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 about 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, 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.

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4 Comments

  1. State-Of-Emergency said:

    Since Armenians are in Glendale to stay and Americana is in Glendale to stay it’s best that this issue be settled in a more conciliatory manner. No need to create bad blood especially since Americana expressed a positive response to the initial protests. Albeit weak, at least it opened the doors for further discussion on the matter. However confident Mr. Foster might feel, we have no way of knowing how the lawsuit will eventually be ruled by the courts. On the surface it’s most likely going to be defended as a private property issue, and at the very least Americana will drag the issue long enough to bankrupt the plaintiffs. It’s wiser for us publicize the opportunity rather than to actually drag it through the court system. Whichever way it is ruled no one will come out as the winner. Whether we win or lose, one thing is for sure, we will have to exclude ourselves from a major portion of the city.

  2. Armen said:

    I am concerned that these types of actions will further harden the prejudice of some toward the Armenian community. It is highly likely that Americana’s action was taken without thought by a member of middle-management. Since they apologized (however weakly) and have let the company sell their shirts again (is there anyone else who is a little bothered by money being made on Genocide related clothing?), this is just over the top. The point has been made. I am pretty sure Americana will think a little harder next time there is this type of issue.

  3. boghos jermag said:

    The views of Mr. Sassounian, the author of this article, coincide with a certain man who is a locksmith, Burbank community activist, Glendale activist getting rid of ANCA members in Glendale City Hall, hunger striker, Policy Forum Armenia member, and author of a “white paper” titled “To Donate or Not to Donate,” [Locksmith] has been campaigning against Armenia Fund.

    The question that might need to be examined are whether Mr. Sassounian and Locksmith are two birds of the same feather?

  4. Edgar said:

    Laws are there to be respected, if Americana disrespected vendor’s civil rights, then they should pay repercussions to the vendor. I don’t see anything wrong by suing Americana.

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