A tire shop in Ann Arbor, Michigan, is facing criticism after a mechanic purporting to be the business’s owner said he doesn’t want the business of blacks and “ghetto people.” When Ypsilanti resident Madison Callanan left a negative Yelp review of her experience at Whitney’s Tire and Auto Repair, she received a shocking response by a Yelp user going by the name “Jim S.,” who claimed to be the owner and manager of the repair shop.
“Most reviews will be left by blacks from Ypsilanti because I don’t want them to call here,” Jim S. wrote in his response to Callanan. “Nothing against them, but given an examination, I found a way to make a boatload more money avoiding them doing commercial water heaters.”
The tire shop worker proceeded to write that his business prefers to work with clients related to the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, campus. “Ghetto folks need to stay in the ghetto and not come to Ann Arbor,” he concluded.
Shalynn Renee Vaughn, a 24-year-old student at the University of Michigan, who called the auto shop to ask the price of a tire, recorded a conversation in which a person from the auto repair shop says he doesn’t service “monkeys.”
“There’s no law against refusing service to ghetto people. I don’t serve fucking monkeys, little fucking primates,” that person told Vaughn in the recording provided to Mic.
What Jim S. is admitting to is most likely illegal, thanks to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This legislation prohibits the discrimination on the basis of religion, race or origin by privately owned businesses, that are considered places of public accommodation. Restaurants, hotels, theaters and repair shops generally fall under the realm of public accommodation.
Jim S. contended, in a phone interview with Mic, that his use of the word “ghetto” has nothing to do with race. “We really don’t want to serve ghetto people, that’s a fact,” he said.
When asked who can be defined by the term “ghetto people,” Jim S. doubled down that his remarks weren’t racial. “Race has nothing to do with this, let me clarify,” he said. “What we’re trying to avoid is people who, number one, can’t afford service.”
The word “ghetto,” however, has a long history of being associated with poor minorities as a pejorative. When asked if he understood why some would find the phrase upsetting, he replied, “I understand that a lot of people find racism to be the worst thing in the world.”
This isn’t the first time the auto shop and its employees have been connected to an incident of questionable customer service. In February, a mechanic from Briarwood Auto Care — which appears to be connected to Whitney’s — was accused of calling a potential customer a “faggot” via text message, according to Fox 2.
Jim S. does have the right to refuse service. But according to Jane Haskins, a writer who also practiced law for two decades, no one can refuse service arbitrarily. It would seem that refusing service to people that fall under his standards of “ghetto” would qualify as arbitrary.
“The answer is that you can refuse to serve someone even if they’re in a protected group, but the refusal can’t be arbitrary and you can’t apply it to just one group of people,” Haskins wrote in a post for LegalZoom. “To avoid being arbitrary, there must be a reason for refusing service and you must be consistent.”
In an email to Mic on Wednesday, the owner of the BP station at the address Whitney’s Tire and Auto Repair lists on its Yelp page said through their attorney that the man who identified himself as “Jim S.” is actually named Whitney Passino, and that he had vacated the property on March 1 after they terminated his lease. However, Fox 2 Detroit reporter Jeff Kranitz told Mic Wednesday that he found Passino operating his business in another location.
April 13, 2016, 2:15 p.m.: This story has been updated to clarify the location of Jim S./Passino’s business.