Haitian hotel workers who say they were fired for speaking Creole while Hispanic workers were free to chat in Spanish were awarded a hefty payout Monday to settle a discrimination suit brought against the lavish Miami inn.
On Friday, the SLS South Beach hotel agreed to a $2.5 million settlement to the 17 workers who were booted, The Miami Herald reported. The million-dollar payment stemmed from a lawsuit filed in April 2017 by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
“ … The EEOC will continue to protect workers in the hospitality industry, including the Black, Haitian community that makes up a significant part of the South Florida workforce,” Michael Farrell, district director for the EEOC’s Miami office, said in a statement.
In the lawsuit, Haitian dishwashers employed at the hotel’s various restaurants claim they were banned from speaking Creole, yet their Latino colleagues were still allowed to speak Spanish. They also alleged they were forced to lug heavy items up the hotel’s 13 flights of stairs while other employees were spared.
When the service elevator broke down and workers asked that it be fixed, one manager allegedly said, “Let those slaves do the work,” according to the complaint.
The disgruntled workers took their concerns to human resources in April 2014. That same day, the entire Haitian dishwashing staff was fired and replaced with a crew “made up of almost entirely of white and/or Hispanic workers,” the suit alleges. James Greeley, chief legal officer of the hotel’s parent company, denied the group’s firing was racially motivated, however, and said the decision was a “legitimate business move” after the hotel was forced to outsource its staff.
“We’re an inclusive company which employs people of over 60 nationalities,” Greeley told the Miami Herald, nothing that not everyone who got fired was of Haitian descent.
As part of the settlement, SLS South Beach will be required to hold mandatory anti-bias training for all chefs, sous chefs, hourly employees and managers who work in the hotel’s eateries, Local News 10 reported. Federal officials will also monitor the hotel, keeping track of the names and national origins of all workers who are hired and fired.
Greeley said the hotel hoped to settle the lawsuit “as amicably as possible” for the benefit the fired employees.
“At the end of the day these were our employees,” he said. “These aren’t adversaries.”