New York Plaza Hotel Sued for Alleged Workplace ‘Rape Culture’

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By Patrick Dorrian

Female employees at The Plaza Hotel’s Palm Court restaurant face an unrelenting hostile work environment based on sex, including being routinely groped, propositioned, and subjected to sexual comments by male managers and co-workers, a lawsuit filed in New York state court alleges.

Four current Palm Court workers and two former employees say the landmark hotel’s upscale atrium restaurant shows one side to the thousands of tourists who visit annually and another side to its female workers. The restaurant has been a preferred destination for New York’s “social and cultural elite” for more than a century.

Hotel management’s pattern of ignoring complaints, victim-blaming, and shielding male harassers despite reports and knowledge of repeated forcible groping, kissing, and other sexual assaults has created a “rape culture” at the Palm Court, the six women assert ( Lewis v. Sahara Plaza LLC , N.Y. Sup. Ct., No. 27324/2017E, complaint filed 8/8/17 ).

It’s too soon to tell whether the case might grow to become a class action, one of the attorneys for the women said. “We expect other women to come forward, now that there is a voice and a platform” for their complaint, but it’s unclear whether any new claims would be added on behalf of a class or just for each woman individually, Andrew Goodstadt told Bloomberg BNA Aug. 9.

The lawsuit was filed Aug. 8 in New York Supreme Court, Bronx County, against Sahara Plaza LLC, which does business as The Plaza Hotel. It also names as defendants Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, which manages The Plaza, and Fairmont’s owners, Accor Business and Leisure Management LLC, and Accor Business and Leisure N.A. LLC. Sahara, Accor and Fairmont have acted as the women’s joint employers, according to the complaint.

Representatives for the hotel, Fairmont, and Accor didn’t respond Aug. 9 to Bloomberg BNA’s request for comment.

‘Institutional Indifference’ Cited

The six women work or worked at the Palm Court as either bartenders, cocktail servers, or hospitality coordinators, the lawsuit says. The harassment included the restaurant’s general manager cornering one of the hospitality coordinators in the coat check closet, knowing it wasn’t being monitored by surveillance cameras. He then pulled their bodies together, forcibly kissed her, and stated, “You know you want this” before she was able to get away, the complaint asserts.

The “institutional indifference” toward the sexual assaults and other harassment by The Plaza, Fairmont, and Accor is what has bred the “rape culture” at the restaurant, Goodstadt said. There are no allegations of rape in the complaint, he said.

But management’s attitude toward the “endemic” groping, attempts to kiss, and lewd comments that have been reported has resulted in an unsafe, harassment-laden work environment, the attorney said. The indifference has caused a “normalizing and trivializing” of the sexual abuse and thus spurred a rape culture, the complaint charges.

George Vallas of New York-based Goodstadt Law Group PLLC also represents the women. He and Goodstadt pledged the full resources of their law firm to their clients’ cause.

“Our clients are victims of egregious and unlawful harassment which they have endured, and which The Plaza has allowed, for far too long,” Goodstadt and Vallas said in an Aug 8 statement announcing the lawsuit. “We will utilize all of our resources to ensure that The Plaza will no longer be able to ignore its female employees who are victimized by its managers and staff, and that The Plaza will no longer use its reputation and influence to blame the victims or silence them,” they said.

In addition to being “routinely treated as sexual objects,” the women also have faced retaliation for complaining about the toxic workplace culture, the complaint asserts. That includes telling them no one would listen to them and threats of termination by union delegates. That was followed by bogus charges of wrongdoing and unfair suspensions and other discipline when they refused to be silenced.

“The Plaza Hotel is an historic, century-old New York City landmark, located at the southern edge of Central Park, which also has century-old ideas about how women should be treated in the workplace,” the complaint asserts. “While patrons enjoy the iconic culture of The Plaza, many of its female employees are forced to endure a culture of a different type,” it says.

The complaint includes claims under New York state and city anti-bias laws as well as for negligent retention, hiring, and supervision.

To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick Dorrian in Washington at pdorrian@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com; Chris Opfer at copfer@bna.com

For More Information

Text of the complaint is available at http://src.bna.com/rwV.

Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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