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Court Clears Delaware Cinema of Racial Bias in Telling Black Patrons to Stay Quiet

It was to be the most expensive “shhhhhhhh” in history.

Delaware's Supreme Court, however, ruled that when a movie theater manager asked an audience to stay quiet during Tyler Perry’s “Why Did I Get Married,” the manager was not acting on a racial impulse, reported the Hollywood Reporter.

The ruling overturned a judgment that would have awarded 23 black theatergoers $1,500 for being told to be quiet in a way seen by some to be racially charged, according to the report. 

Carmike 14 Theater was told to pay nearly $80,000 for insulting, humiliating and demeaning patrons in the "minority-themed" movie, reported Delaware Online.

The outrage began one night in October 2007 when David Stewart, the theater’s white manager, told the crowd to silence cell phones before the screening.

One patron followed Stewart out of the theater and said his instructions did not sit well with some in the audience.

Juana Fuentes-Bowles, then the director of Delaware’s Human Relations Division, was in the audience and stood up and told the crowd that his remarks were racist.

Despite Stewart's effort to assure to the audience that he did not mean to offend, Bowles’ office launched an inquiry and held a hearing.

Delaware’s Human Relations Division website says its mission is to “ensure equal opportunity for all people” by protecting against practices that discriminate based on race and color. Based on those principles, the committee ruled that Stewart’s conduct violated the state’s equal accommodation law. In turn, each of the complainants were to be awarded $1,500 in damages.

But the Delaware Supreme Court concluded that the theater's announcement didn't contain racist language, Delaware Online reported, adding that the announcement was made as part of a theater policy for crowd control to improve the audience experience at sold-out shows -- a policy that has since been discontinued.

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