Rrazz Room management alleges racism in contract negotiations

Beth Laberge/Special to the S.F. ExaminerEnd: The Rrazz Room at Hotel Nikko will be shutting down this year

When singer Kim Nalley utters her final notes on New Year’s Eve, it will mark not only the end of 2012, but the end of the Rrazz Room — at least at the Hotel Nikko. The hotel announced Monday that the venue’s contract would end Dec. 31.

“We wish the Rrazz Room all the best in the future,” general manager Anna Marie Presutti said.

Alas, the feelings are not mutual.

In a complaint filed in Superior Court last month, Rrazz Entertainment West Inc. alleged that Presutti applied pressure on partners Robert Kotonly and Rory Paull to alter their entertainment booking practices based on the race of the entertainers.

The complaint alleged that Presutti “requested that Rrazz Entertainment change its musical programming to reduce the number of Rhythm and Blues acts because the defendants did not want the Rrazz Room to attract to the Hotel Nikko a certain ‘demographic’ that Rhythm and Blues acts were drawing.”

Nalley, the venue’s final act, is black, as were many of the venue’s performers, including Ruben Studdard, Ashford and Simpson, and Harold Melvin’s Blue Notes.

The suit further alleged that a Sunday brunch radio show broadcast from the Nikko was switched from R&B station KBLX to the soft-rock format KSOF based on demographics of race, and that the defendants altered contract documents “in bad faith.”

It’s not the first time Kotonly and Paull have had a less than happy parting with hotel manager landlords. In 2007, after three years of booking the venue, lease negotiations broke down between Rrazz and Personality Hotels over the future of the Plush Room at the York Hotel (now the Vertigo). Personality shuttered the room and Kotonly and Paull opened at the Nikko in the spring of 2008.

At that time, Presutti and the Nikko were in the process of defending against a race- and age-based wrongful termination suit by a former midlevel manager. The case did not go to trial and Presutti claims “the hotel was very pleased with the way that was resolved.”

“The lawsuit is full of outrageous allegations, which I adamantly deny,” Presutti said. “It is especially hurtful and upsetting to me, given the diverse workforce we have here at the Nikko, to be accused of racism by the Rrazz management team. This is simply the case of a contract coming to an end, and it’s an attempt for Rrazz to use slander as a bullying tactic to get their way.”

Kotonly and Paull, who declined to be interviewed on the advice of legal counsel, are focused on opening a new venue at 1000 Van Ness Ave. in January.

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