At Monday night's Columbia Borough Council “Committee of the Whole” meeting, Frine Jacks-Leed, a Columbia Market House vendor, alleged she is a target of racial discrimination at the Market House. Ms. Jacks-Leed, who is of Filipino descent, charged that a Market House official has engaged in a pattern of discrimination aimed at her and some other vendors.
Ms. Jacks-Leed accused the official of giving preference to “blonde-haired, blue-eyed” vendors and excluding her from certain privileges, including access to the Market's Facebook page, and banning her from that website. She said she was previously permitted to post an advertisement for only two days before it was deleted. She also said that her stand has not been promoted, although others in the Market have been.
She also alleged that the official criticized her to other vendors, told people to stop buying from her, and on at least one occasion blocked access to her stand to keep customers away.
Ms. Jacks-Leed stated that another vendor, Abigail Cruz, who is Hispanic, is the only new vendor who was not formally introduced and to date nothing has been done to promote her stand, even though other new vendors have been promoted on the Market House's Facebook page and on the windows of the Market House itself. She also alleged that she and other long-term vendors also have not been promoted.
She also stated that the official initially presumed she was Hispanic, and even after she corrected him, he asked her to help Ms.Cruz in understanding English.
“I don't know a word of Spanish,” she told Council members.
In addition, she told Council she is charged more for her space at the Market than other vendors with a similarly sized space.
Ms. Jacks-Leed also stated she was threatened by a person who works with one of the vendors, who made reference to “a gun.” She said she reported the incident to local police who stated they could not act on her complaint, because it was based on hearsay.
She charges that she inquired about her concerns several times with the official, face-to-face and via e-mail, but received little or no clarification. She accused Council of doing nothing to address the issues.
Ms. Jacks-Leed has tendered her resignation to the Market House Trust and has decided to set up her own business elsewhere. According to Trust guidelines, she had until April 6 to sign a new lease to continue her stay. She stated she could not agree to stipulations in the lease limiting her ability to speak out about concerns at the Market. Specifically, she took issue with Items 12 and 13, which state the following:
Item 12. Lessor agrees to hold Lessee harmless for any property damage or any injuries arising out of negligence of Lessor. Lessee in turn shall hold Lessor harmless for any property damage or any injuries to person arising out of any negligence of Lessee.
Item 13. Lessee agrees not to engage in any discussions or activities that cast a negative impression on the Market and its operations, other vendors, Columbia Borough or the Market Trust. Such activity shall be deemed to be a valid reason to terminate the lease.
She states that due to her objections to Item 13 on First Amendment grounds, it was omitted from her contract but kept it in place for other vendors. Item 12 was not omitted.
Ms. Jacks-Leed has contacted the American Civil Liberties Union and is currently in the early stages of talks with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in the hope of having her concerns addressed.