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By: Jeremy Rogers
Recently, the EEOC announced a settlement in a lawsuit brought against SLS Hotel in South Beach. The lawsuit, filed in 2017, followed an investigation into charges made by multiple Haitian former employees who had been terminated in April 2014. They worked as dishwashers in three separate restaurants located in the SLS Hotel. They alleged that they had been wrongfully terminated in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act on the basis of race, color, and/or national origin. All told, there were 23 dishwashers fired on the same day in 2014, all but 2 of which were Haitian. On the date of termination, each terminated employee was called into a meeting with the HR department and fired. When fired, they allege, they were told that they must sign a separation and final release in order to receive their final paychecks. Prior to termination, they claim that they had been subjected to considerable forms of harassment including verbal abuse (they assert they were called “slaves”), being reprimanded for speaking Creole among themselves while Latinos were allowed to speak Spanish, and being assigned more difficult tasks than non-Haitian employees.
What makes this case interesting is that SLS had re-staffed these positions using a third-party staffing company. The new staff supplied by the staffing company were primarily light-skinned Latinos. The new staff also included at least one employee who had been terminated by SLS, but that individual was also Latino. Articles about this case from when it was filed show that the EEOC took the position that SLS was attempting to hide their discrimination behind the use of the staffing company. SLS, for their part, asserted that they had made the decision to change to the use of a staffing company 2 years before the mass termination. Despite this, the district director emphasized once again, when the EEOC announced the settlement, that the EEOC will not allow companies to hide behind business relationships to engage in discriminatory practices. This was, according to the EEOC, just such a case.
So how egregious did the EEOC believe this case to be? They accepted settlement on behalf of 17 workers for the sum of $2.5 million, which works out to just over $147,000.00 per employee if split equally.
If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Jeremy Rogers at [email protected].