After being Called Slaves, Haitian Workers Win $2.5 Million Settlement

On July 27, 2018, the SLS South Beach hotel on Miami Beach, Florida agreed to a $2.5 million settlement with 17 of its former Haitian employees. These employees worked at the hotel’s restaurants, including Hyde Beach, The Bazaar by Jose Andrés, and Katsuya. Back in 2014, the employees accused the hotel of firing Haitians for speaking Creole while permitting Hispanic co-workers to speak in Spanish in the workplace freely. The large payment was the result of an employment discrimination lawsuit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) in April 2017 and the EEOC’s investigation into the establishment.

Moreover, the SLS’s Haitian employees also claimed that they were also asked to perform duties that others who were not Haitian were not forced to do, like lifting bulky items up and down the thirteen-floor hotel. Worse yet, at one point, when a dishwasher asked the SLS’s management to fix the broken service elevator, a supervisor responded, “let those slaves do the work.”

According to the complaint, in April 2014, when the discriminated against dishwashing staff bravely reported the discrimination to the SLS’s human resources department, they were all fired. Later that same day, management replaced them with a new staff that was, “made up of almost entirely of white and/or Hispanic workers.”

Four years later, the parties finally settled. The massive settlement of $2.5 million also included terms requiring that the hotel hold mandatory anti-bias training for all hourly employees, managers, chefs, and sous chefs who work in the hotel’s eateries. Moreover, because of the severity of discrimination claims, Federal officials will continue to monitor the hotel and track the names and national origins of all SLS workers who are hired and fired.

James Greeley, Chief Legal Officer for SBE Entertainment, which manages the SLS, says management did nothing wrong, but, “In settling this, it was not to be construed as an admission that the allegations were true… We didn’t want to continue a nasty battle with employees that we cared about. At the end of the day these were our employees, these aren’t adversaries.”

Obviously, the unlawful and racist comment of, “let those slaves do the work,” shows the intent of the hotel’s management’s intent of treating its Haitian employees like slaves and thinking of them as a lower class of worker. Often times, it is difficult to confirm if an employer has discriminatory intentions when there seem to be signs of discriminatory acts, however, when an individual makes a blatantly racist statement—like the one above—it is clear evidence of unlawful discrimination under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act (“Title VII”), as well as 42 U.S. Code § 1981 (“Section 1981”). These two critical federal laws protect employees from color discrimination and racial discrimination.

Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act (Title VII) and 42 U.S.C. 1981 (Section 1981). Courts often analyze legal claims under these two statutes in a very similar, if not identical, fashion and the same set of facts can be pursued under both laws simultaneously. Congress and the Supreme Court, however, have made it clear that, while these two statutes are similar, they remain separate and distinct causes of actions. It is thus essential to know how the differences between Title VII and Section 1981 can help, or potentially sink your case.

If you feel like you’ve been discriminated against on the basis of your race, color, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, pregnancy, pregnancy-related status, national origin, age, disability, genetic information, or marital status, or if you believe that your employer engaged in illegal employment practices, consult with an experienced Derek Smith Law Group, PLLC attorney. Our attorneys have years of experience litigating claims of discrimination, such as race and national origin discrimination, and employee’s rights in the workplace. With offices in New York City, Philadelphia, and Miami, we have recovered millions on behalf of our clients who were subject to unlawful employment practices. Let us stand up for you and your rights when it counts. If you need an attorney in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, or Florida, please give our attorneys a call, tollfree at (800) 807-2209, for your free consultation.