A Waveland business owner has filed a lawsuit against the Hancock County Chamber of Commerce alleging racial discrimination.
Constance E. St. Julien-Mims — owner of the Unique Transitions Training Center that is sometimes referred to as the "barber college" -- filed the action in Hancock County Circuit Court last week.
According to the suit, Mims states that "on or about June 2018, she and her business were subjected and continue to be subjected to acts of racial discrimination by Tish Williams, who was acting as representative of the Hancock Chamber of Commerce."
Mims alleges that even though the Chamber is funded by cities and the county to network and promote business development, "Unique Transitions Training Center was denied the same opportunities as other white-owned businesses within Hancock County."
The suit alleges that when Mims asked to sponsor a Chamber Business After Hours event, she was told by Williams that "it would be too costly for her and that those events are usually re-booked by the sponsors each year. … (Mims) asked if there were any months available and was told June and July were open, but she would have to renew her enrollment with the Chamber."
Mims said she replied that paying the renewal fee would not be a problem, but Williams told her, "Well, you have to purchase food and cover the cost of alcohol. I think you should hold your own event and pay the Chamber $200 to post it on our website. But I don't know who will come."
Mims "feels that she and her business have been treated unfairly by the Hancock Chamber of Commerce due to the color of her skin and her gender," according to the suit. She further alleges "she has not been given equal opportunity to promote her business by the Hancock County Chamber" and that the "Business After Hours Event has never been hosted by a black-owned business in the history of the organization."
Mims is requesting damages in the amount of $150,000 plus punitive damages of $100,000.
Williams said Tuesday that she has not been officially served with the suit, but said the allegations are not true.
"I think the Chamber of Commerce is one of the most diverse organizations in the county because all are welcome and we have an anti-discrimination policy," Williams said. "All are welcome. … The first thing you have to do is renew your membership.
"When she first joined, we did a ribbon cutting and all the pictures are on Facebook. There's really nothing more to say. All are welcome. Not just businesses, but individuals and non-profits, as well. In our history, we have never discriminated."
A court hearing in the matter hasn't been scheduled.