Mall’s teen pol­icy queried

Rights agency asks if mea­sure may be dis­crim­i­na­tory

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Pamela Wood

The state agency that in­ves­ti­gates civil rights com­plaints is rais­ing con­cerns that Tow­son Town Cen­ter’s new pol­icy ban­ning un­ac­com­pa­nied mi­nors on Fri­day and Satur­day nights may rep­re­sent age dis­crim­i­na­tion.

The Mary­land Com­mis­sion on Civil Rights will meet with mall man­age­ment next week and is look­ing at other malls’ poli­cies on teenage shop­pers as well, a top of­fi­cial said Fri­day.

“While on their face we un­der­stand the pur­pose of them, when we dig deeper, th­ese poli­cies could vi­o­late the pub­lic ac­com­mo­da­tion rights for the cit­i­zens of Mary­land,” said Cleve­land L. Hor­ton II, the com­mis­sion’s deputy di­rec­tor.

Hor­ton also said the com­mis­sion is aware that some be­lieve the pol­icy is tar­geted at young peo­ple of color. He said the panel wants to make sure any di­rec­tive about teenagers at the mall doesn’t also have the ef­fect of dis­crim­i­nat­ing based on race or color.

Tony Fugett, pres­i­dent of the Bal­ti­more County chap­ter of the NAACP, said he is con­cerned that the pol­icy dis­crim­i­nates against young peo­ple in gen­eral, and African-Amer­i­can young peo­ple specif­i­cally.

“It sounds like it’s a dis­crim­i­na­tory prac­tice on its face,” Fugett said, adding that the pol­icy “may dis­pro­por­tion­ately af­fect African-Amer­i­can young folks.”

He said the NAACP would in­ves­ti­gate the le­gal­ity of the pol­icy and hopes to learn more about the mall’s de­ci­sion to put it in place.

Un­der Mary­land law, pub­lic ac­com­mo­da­tions such as stores and res­tau­rants are not al­lowed to dis­crim­i­nate based on a pa­tron’s race, sex, age, color, creed, na­tional

ori­gin, mar­i­tal sta­tus, sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion or dis­abil­ity.

Hor­ton said the civil com­mis­sion has not opened a for­mal in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the mall’s pol­icy, which was an­nounced Thurs­day.

“At this point, no com­plaint has been filed. We’re at the dis­cus­sion stage,” he said. “At this stage, the com­mis­sion is ac­tively dis­cussing this mat­ter with Tow­son Town Cen­ter.”

If the com­mis­sion de­cides to open an in­ves­ti­ga­tion and de­ter­mines there is cred­i­ble sus­pi­cion that dis­crim­i­na­tion oc­curred, the mat­ter would be re­ferred to com­mis­sion at­tor­neys for pos­si­ble le­gal ac­tion, Hor­ton said. The pri­mary goal of any le­gal ac­tion would be to force a change in pol­icy, he said.

Lisa Bise­nius, the mall’s se­nior gen­eral man­ager, said she will meet with com­mis­sion of­fi­cials to dis­cuss their con­cerns. She de­clined to com­ment fur­ther.

Tow­son Town Cen­ter an­nounced Thurs­day that it will im­ple­ment a “parental guid­ance re­quired” pol­icy start­ing Sept. 16. On Fri­day and Satur­day nights af­ter 5 p.m., those younger than 18 will not be al­lowed in the mall af­ter 5 p.m. with­out a par­ent or other “su­per­vis­ing adult” age 21 or older. Se­cu­rity guards and off-duty po­lice of­fi­cers will be sta­tioned at the mall’s 19 en­trances to check iden­ti­fi­ca­tion.

The pol­icy fol­lows com­plaints from res­i­dents and elected of­fi­cials about young peo­ple con­gre­gat­ing around the mall, es­pe­cially af­ter it closes at 9 p.m.

Last De­cem­ber, a 16-year-old girl was charged as a ju­ve­nile with sec­ond-de­gree as­sault on a po­lice of­fi­cer af­ter a group of rowdy young peo­ple threw rocks at of­fi­cers, ac­cord­ing to po­lice.

Bise­nius said Thurs­day that the mall has had “oc­ca­sional” in­ci­dents in­volv­ing gath­er­ings of young peo­ple, and that the new pol­icy is in­tended to pro­mote a fam­ily-friendly at­mos­phere.

Hor­ton said he un­der­stands the pub­lic safety con­cerns of mall man­age­ment and the need to pre­vent un­ruly be­hav­ior. But that shouldn’t come at the ex­pense of all young peo­ple, whose rights are pro­tected by state law, he said.

Other shop­ping cen­ters and movie the­aters in the re­gion also have poli­cies against un­ac­com­pa­nied youths dur­ing des­ig­nated evening hours. Those in­clude The Av­enue at White Marsh, the Cine­mark movie theater at Tow­son Square, Mar­ley Sta­tion Mall in Glen Burnie and Hunt Val­ley Towne Cen­tre.

Mon­dawmin Mall in West Bal­ti­more pro­hibits un­ac­com­pa­nied mi­nors dur­ing the day on school days.

Mon­dawmin is owned by the same par­ent com­pany as Tow­son Town Cen­ter, Chicago-based Gen­eral Growth Prop­er­ties. Two other GGP sub­ur­ban malls, White Marsh Mall and The Mall in Columbia, do not have poli­cies re­strict­ing un­ac­com­pa­nied youths.

The state’s largest mall, Arun­del Mills in Hanover, does not have a teen pol­icy.

Hor­ton said the com­mis­sion was not aware of shop­ping cen­ter poli­cies re­strict­ing teenage pa­trons un­til the Tow­son Town Cen­ter’s pol­icy was an­nounced this week.

More than 100 malls and shop­ping cen­ters across the coun­try have poli­cies gov­ern­ing when teens can shop with­out su­per­vi­sion, ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­na­tional Coun­cil of Shop­ping Cen­ters.

The mas­sive Mall of Amer­ica in Min­nesota is be­lieved to have been the first mall to en­act such a pol­icy, in 1996.

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