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July 31, 2014

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Hard Rock brand sues, cites Rehab behavior at Las Vegas hotel

Image

Tiffany Brown

On any given summer Sunday, hundreds pack the pool at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino for Rehab.

Rehab party at Hard Rock (2008)

A UCLA law student, Carrie Richeu, nibbles strawberries poolside with friends during a Rehab in late June. Launch slideshow »

Exposure: Vegas Daylife (VIEWER DISCRETION ADVISED)

Summer stretches into a five-month Spring Break at Rehab. The Hard Rock pool has helped transformed Vegas nightlife into "daylife." (Viewer discretion advised. The content of this video might be objectionable to some viewers.)

The owner of the international Hard Rock brand no longer wants its name associated with the Las Vegas Hard Rock hotel-casino and is suing to cancel their licensing agreement, citing negative publicity from the Rehab pool parties and reality TV series.

Orlando-based Hard Rock Cafe International (USA) Inc. (HRCI) sued the owners of the Las Vegas hotel as well as Rehab's producer and broadcaster Tuesday in federal court in New York.

"The behavior depicted in the Rehab television program that is authorized, created and distributed by defendants is entirely at odds with the brand image of the Hard Rock marks (trademarks) and is likely to damage and has damaged the goodwill of the Hard Rock marks among consumers,'' the lawsuit charges. "Among other things, Rehab portrays the Las Vegas Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, a property operated under trademarks owned and licensed by Hard Rock Cafe International, as a destination that revels in drunken debauchery, acts of vandalism, sexual harassment, violence, criminality and a host of other behavior that most members of the general consuming public of the United States who regularly frequent or are potential patrons of HRCI’s Hard Rock Cafe restaurants and other properties operated under the Hard Rock marks would find unseemly and objectionable.''

Sued was Las Vegas Hard Rock owner Hard Rock Hotel Holdings LLC, which is majority owned by international financial giant Credit Suisse's DLJ Merchant Banking Partners unit.

A request for comment on the lawsuit was placed with Morgans Hotel Group in New York, which manages the Las Vegas Hard Rock and has a minority ownership stake in the property.

Also sued were Turner Broadcasting System of Atlanta, which the lawsuit says has broadcast on its truTV cable TV channel since November 2008 the show "Rehab: Party at the Hard Rock Hotel,'' as well as show producer Brad Lachman Productions Inc. of Burbank, Calif.

The Rehab show "purports to depict events'' during summer pool parties at the 1,500-room Paradise Road hotel-casino, several blocks east of the Las Vegas Strip.

A problem with Rehab, the lawsuit asserts, is that it portrays the staff of the Las Vegas Hard Rock hotel-casino "as unprofessional, incompetent, and/or physically and emotionally abusive to hotel guests and other staff.''

"HRCI prides itself on offering guests at its Hard Rock Cafe restaurants and other properties operated under the Hard Rock marks dining and entertainment experiences that are pleasurable, fun and consistent with the democratic free spirit of rock music. In contrast, Rehab associates HRCI’s Hard Rock marks with conduct on the part of both hotel guests and staff that is offensive, depraved and deeply damaging to the Hard Rock marks and their inherent goodwill.''

The lawsuit also charges the actual pool parties -- not the reality show -- have harmed the Hard Rock brand by associating it with criminal activity as Las Vegas police arrested eight people at Rehab one year ago on prostitution and drug charges.

The show has caused customers around the country of various Hard Rock properties to complain, the suit says.

Complaints cited in the lawsuit include:

-- "My wife and I travel to Las Vegas every other year and stay at the Hard Rock; I'm sorry to tell you that our family will not stay there ever again. I saw Rehab on truTV and was appalled by your 'Little Hitler' Matt -- the so-called manager. I never would take the time to write such an e-mail, but watching him call your employees 'stupid' and a 'whore' just angered me to the point where I felt compelled to write. His only management technique is 'I'm gonna fire you.' He also says things like it's her time of the month.' Can't decide if it's a moronic attempt by Hard Rock to boost ratings, but your sorry butts should be sued by your employees for allowing and creating a hostile work environment, and sexual harassment!!??!!''

-- "I have watched this season’s episodes of Rehab and I must say after seeing the behavior of Matt, I am certain that I will not be attending any more events at Hard Rock in Dallas or any other city. In addition, I will recommend to those I know planning events that they choose other venues. His behavior is deplorable and if those are the types of individuals that Hard Rock promotes, then your venue is not a venue that I ever want to frequent again."

The lawsuit says Hard Rock Cafe International complained about Rehab to the Las Vegas property owners, but the allegedly offensive nature of the program is continuing in its third season.

Hard Rock Cafe also complained the Las Vegas property owners have misused the Hard Rock brand at the Hard Rock hotel-casinos in Tulsa, Okla., and Albuquerque, N.M., where in both locations Hard Rock Cafe alleges "the range of services, character of the establishment and the experience offered to customers is incompatible with consumer expectations for goods and services branded with the Hard Rock marks.''

Hard Rock Cafe also charged the Las Vegas property owners have registered without authorization website addresses such as cherokeehardrockhotel.com, hrhpokeronline.com and hardrockroyalty.com.

The lawsuit, alleging breach of contract, trademark infringement and other claims, seeks a court order terminating the Hard Rock licensing agreement between Hard Rock Cafe and the owners of the Las Vegas property.

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  1. This is not good news for the Las Vegas operation.

    I think it's one heck of a valid claim for the legal action.

    Though I've never thought about the connection and the potential damage to the cafe's and other Hotels worldwide, I've never seen the reality show, but I can imagine it's not a very positive impression.

    I think these pool clubs are bad for the image of Las Vegas in some quarters, conventions, older people for example.

    All just my opinion.

  2. When you base success on the lowest common denominator you ought to brace for disappointment sooner or later.

  3. The (evident) behavior of some of the Rehab management team leaves something to be desired, as evidenced by the TV show. But anyone who has worked either front-of-house or back-of-house in the restaurant and nightlife industry knows what goes on -- even in whitewashed, corporate chains (watch "Waiting" if you are unaware). Restaurants, bars and nightclubs are not where buttoned-down corporate America goes to work, and rightly so.

    This also unveils a lot about so-called "reality TV" in general. Who knows how much of it is scripted/egged-on by the producers or manufactured/exacerbated by editing tricks?

    That said, the Hard Rock is kind of a tired brand appealing mostly to Baby Boomers, most of whom are hardly rocking and rolling anymore. If I were the Hard Rock Hotel executives, I'd have the signs off the building today and not even challenge the lawsuit. There are other young-minded brands out there much better suited to the young party scene in Las Vegas.

    For those of you who are "appalled" at the "wild" behavior of some of those in attendance at Rehab, I'd kindly suggest you are no longer within their target demographic. As we get older, it's funny how we turn into the curmudgeons telling the neighborhood kids to get off our lawn ...

  4. James, you da man!!! couldn't have put it better myself.

  5. James, yes, great post. Lot's of good insight there and I have a hard time understanding what they can do with the naming matter, given that so much of the aura and theme is so tied in with the HR branding.

  6. I've done business with Hard Rock Cafes across the country for years. The atmosphere and food offer a great value. I also know that the Hotel has simply licensed the name in order to attract people (like me) who have been loyal to Hard Rock Cafe. The rehab events are disgusting and juvinile. Who wants to share a pool with 5,000 drunks. The "managers" on the TV show are unprofessional and a disgrace. (Last year there was a female manager that was equally as bad as this Matt guy). Note to HRH, if this is the clientele you are after, count me out. The problem with licensing a name is that a business loses control of the business. The typical customer just assumes it's all run by one corporation.
    Hard Rock Cafe is still great, but I can see why there is confusiuon.

  7. The truth is deeper than Bakersfield suggests. Peter Morton founded the Hard Rock Cafe chain; he also built the Hard Rock Hotel. It wasn't just a simple "licensing agreement" in the beginning as Peter Morton was deeply connected to the origins of the brand.

    Imagine where Las Vegas would be if people had posted in 1962 that the "Rat Pack's behavior is disgusting and juvenile." Since when have we forgotten that "Vegas" is an idea that has always and forever meant to sell libertine experiences to the world? The more we forget that, the more we become just another bland suburb with casinos, and the more we set aside our competitive edge.

  8. Part 1 of 2:

    The most interesting "fact" from the court Complaint is who the plaintiff's lawyers are. Among the universe of lawyers who could have been chosen, the corporate plaintiff picked Dorsey & Whitney, a firm with original headquarters in Minnesota. That firm likes to think of itself as the "pre-eminent Indian Law firm in the United States". Dorsey & Whitney will play all sides of the street, for Indians, against Indians, or for banks lending money to Indian businesses. You name it, Dorsey & Whitney is making money off Native Americans. I personally do not like this law firm because (1) their lawyering skills concerning Indian Law are nothing spectacular but very expensive and (2) they are not loyal to the Native American community as a whole, taking cases "against" tribes when they can make money, even though purporting to represent Native American tribes at other times. See: http://www.dorsey.com/indian_gaming/

    To me, the most interesting gripe in the court Complaint is that the plaintiff doesn't like the way Western Native American tribal licensees who use the name "Hard Rock" under licenses from the defendants run their casinos in the Western United States.

    However, while Dorsey & Whitney sue the universe on behalf of the plaintiffs, they do not sue any of the Western tribes about whose activities they complain. That is, of course, because Dorsey & Whitney would have to sue the tribes in soverign tribal courts. Probably Dorsey & Whitney does not want their claims to be tested by Native American judges and jurors, and instead want to terminate the white companies' trademark use rights and then let the Native American tribal hotel/casinos be mired in a legal mess. Obviously the Native American tribes who Dorsey & Whitney try to indirectly attack need to figure out how to get control of what Dorsey & Whitney is doing. Dorsey & Whitney's tactics remind me of the nasty machinations of Marilyn Densham (played by actress Sissy Spacek), a powerful and conniving lobbyist in the show "Big Love".

  9. Part 2 of 2

    Despite all the bluster in the front end of a court Complaint, it is the "back end" where you really find out what the plaintiff wants.

    As to this plaintiff's complaints about alleged trademark violations and unfair competition against the white defendants who operate Hard Rock Hotel/Casinos in the Western United States, the back end of the court Complaint is really clear. The plaintiffs want the profits from the TV show, and the profits from any other business enterprises they don't have their mitts into, such as business operations of restaurants in hotel/casinos operated by third parties.

    And, of course, the plaintiffs want the defendants' right to use the trademarks forfeited, which is simply code for wanting a bigger piece of the action.

    What the plaintiffs and their lawyers are really angling for is to shake down the users of the trademarked name in the old Peter Morton territory (Western U.S.), for a bigger piece of the gross, even if the plaintiff doesn't have a right to that money under the master licensing agreement. They plaintiffs will try to do that by causing the defendants to incur massive attorneys fees in endless depositions about intangible non-monetary issues like quality, atmosphere and image in businesses using the trademarked name under the license agreement.

    All the whining in the court Complaint about the Rehab television show is, to me, just inflammatory talk because one of the things that the Complaint explicitly says the trademark licensees have is "broadcast rights".

    So we'll see how this turns out. Use of Dorsey & Whitney by the plaintiffs shows me that buried in this lawsuit is a shakedown of Native Americans by devious pale faces. Surprised?

  10. The fact that the HRH has emloyees and managers that act like morons for the camera turns me off more than the crowds of drunken kids.

    Could I ever spend money there knowing people like Matt from Rehab are getting a cut? No. I almost booked a room there last week but thought better of it after watching their show again.

  11. <If anything they should be thankful that their name is out there and not worry about what some cowboys from Albuquerque or Tulsa think. >

    VegasIndustry:

    You're totally missing the point HRC is trying to make here (and thank goodness you don't run anything of importance in Vegas). There are Hard Rocks EVERYWHERE in the world and the corporation has a right to say how their image should be reflected EVERYWHERE in the world, including New Mexico and Oklahoma. Showcasing a bunch of pea=brained, almost naked, drunken idiots does not exactly promote a welcoming image, unless, of course, you ARE one of those pea-brained, almost naked drunken idiots.

  12. < ..... the Hard Rock is kind of a tired brand appealing mostly to Baby Boomers, most of whom are hardly rocking and rolling anymore >

    Speak for yourself, Reza!!! BTW - the Boomers are the ones who are spending the most cash these days. AND....Hard Rock NEVER appealed to any of my friends, all of whom are those so-called Boomers! Yeah, it was fun to go see (one time at least) the old rock n' roll stuff in the places, some of which is quite impressive; but it never was that appealing. And in the HR Cafes, the food was so-so.

    Also the Hard Rock brand is still as popular today as it was when it began. Go visit any HR in ANY city in the world, and the place is packed. It's a brand that people know and trust.

  13. You don't need a "reality" show to let the world know what a mess Rehab is. It's like a gay circuit party for straight people. Of course Hard Rock is defensive, it was just last month someone drank too much, hit his head on the pool and died.

  14. They should cancel the tv show. When are they going to understand that adult behavior under the influence is not for the public, all of this has to be kept private.

  15. Reza, I stand by my comments about the HRH Rehab management. However, I did not say (or intend to imply) that they should be shut down, just said that I would not be a customer. 5,000 drunks in a pool is not my thing, but at $25 a head (I think that's the entry fee) it's obviously a money maker for them. Just not my money.
    And obviously the 5,000 who show up seem to enjoy themselves. I also understand that these "reality" TV shows are somewhat "staged" for the cameras, after all, who would tune in to a show watching a bunch of 20 somethings behaving themselves. (In reality, a high percentage probably are behaving, they just don't make the cut for the show). This boomer will be somewhere other than "rehab" when I go to L.V.
    By the way, I love the Rat Pack!

  16. The pool clubs and nightclubs in Las Vegas will continue to have these problems because of our litigious society. They will not be able to get away with "questionable" behavior from their employees or customers as they could have ten or twenty years ago.