‘It Was Like Hell’: California Hotel Workers Break Silence Over Abuse | #MeToo movement


JLocated outside Los Angeles at Ranchos Palos Verdes, the Terranea Resort offers fine dining, a golf course, panoramic beach views, and accommodations ranging from deluxe rooms to private, secluded villas. While it can be a guest’s paradise, resort employees say they are subject to a culture that has allowed sexual harassment and assault.

The Terranea Resort, which has hosted conferences attended by luminaries including Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, was first examined for harboring sexual harassers in the summer of 2017, when a former dishwasher and assistant to chief, Sandra Pezqueda, filed a sexual harassment and assault complaint against the complex and the recruitment agency that employed her to work there.

In the lawsuit, Pezqueda claimed she suffered repeated sexual harassment and assault from her supervisor who responded to her refusals by changing her work schedule.

“After you speak they try to look for reasons to complain about your job to make you feel bad about your job, whereas before reporting you were never reprimanded,” Pezqueda said. . “Terranea claims to be there to help you when you report, but what happens to women is they laugh at you when you report or, what’s easier, they fire you. “

Pezqueda was honored as a silence breaker in Time Magazine’s 2017 Person of the Year issue as part of the #MeToo movement for her courage to speak out. In May 2018, she received a settlement of $ 250,000. Terranea Resort has been cleared of any wrongdoing in this matter.

The latest complaints come as fast-food restaurant workers and other low-wage workers have publicized their struggles and cities, states and politicians, including Senator Bernie Sanders, consider taking action to protect them. workers against harassment.

Jasmin Sanchez filed a complaint against Terranea Resort in September 2018. The complaint accuses Stephen Harrington, the resort’s loss prevention manager who led Terranea’s internal investigation into Pezqueda’s complaints of sexual harassment and assault .

The lawsuit includes a text message Harrington sent to Sanchez in August 2016 after taking his cell phone number from a staff bulletin board. “My cock can’t stop thinking about it, I’m going to have to fight again in the ballroom bathroom,” the text read after Harrington told him he was watching her with the cameras. security while she was working. Sanchez reported the text messages to human resources, which she said scanned them. Days later, Harrington cornered Sanchez in a room and sexually assaulted her for reporting him, according to the lawsuit.

“When it happened, it gave me panic attacks. I couldn’t go back to work. I just left, I couldn’t stay and I didn’t want to go back, ”Sanchez said. Harrington also repeatedly threatened to have his car towed after initially reporting the text messages, she claimed. “I chose to speak because my mother is a hotel maid who has been sexually harassed and also because working women like me deserve respect.”

Terranea declined to comment on Sanchez’s case, but noted that Harrington resigned from his post at the resort in November 2016. “These are very serious allegations that do not reflect the values ​​or culture of Terranea,” added a door. – speech of Terranea Resort. “Since opening our doors in 2009, Terranea Resort has remained true to our commitment to valuing the contributions of each associate, maintaining positive relationships in the workplace and providing a rewarding professional experience.

The supervisor Pezqueda accused of sexual harassment and assault is also said to have harassed and assaulted other colleagues. Monica Sanchez (no connection to Jasmin), a former dishwasher who worked with Pezqueda, explained that a few months after joining Terranea in 2014, her supervisor began to sexually harass her.

Time magazine’s 2017 Personality of the Year cover, The Silence Breakers, which featured women who spoke out against harassment, including Sandra Pezqueda. Photograph: Billy & Hells / AFP / Getty Images

“He offered to have sex with him. He said if I went with him I would have a better position at work, ”said Monica Sanchez. She rejected her advances, but two months later they escalated and she says her supervisor grabbed her by the waist. “I asked him what are you doing?” I said please respect me, and he laughed at me. After that I complained to his manager who told me not to pay attention, that he was joking, that he was not serious about what he was saying.

Monica Sanchez no longer wanted to work at Terranea but said she had to keep the job out of necessity. She claims that the supervisor changed her schedule from morning to night in retaliation and again offered to change her schedule. “It was hell to work there,” added Monica Sanchez. “I experienced so much fear and humiliation in Terranea.”

She eventually resigned in early 2016, but the supervisor and a friend of hers who also worked at Terranea continued to harass her throughout the following year in texts containing unsolicited sexual propositions and threats. As a result, she had to change her cell phone number and Facebook profile.

At Terranea, supervisors and managers are not the only perpetrators of sexual harassment and assault. In affidavits, three former housekeepers say their reports to management of guests sexually harassing them, including exposing themselves, have been ignored and often viewed as a joke.

“There is so much that happens to you as a woman out there, and the management never listens, they never care. We are exposed to proposals, harassment and requests from customers because we work in isolation on our own, ”Rosa Marina Moreno Garcia, another former housekeeper, said in an interview. She worked at the resort from 2009 until August 2017, when she was fired for allegedly taking excessively long breaks, the same excuse used to fire Pezqueda after reporting the sexual harassment and assault of a supervisor. “I have had so many experiences with guests exposing themselves completely naked.”

A spokesperson for Terranea Resort denied the allegations; “We are not aware of any complaints involving our housekeepers like the ones you mentioned,” they said. “We have a zero tolerance policy towards unlawful harassment of any kind. “

Garcia is one of the workers supporting providing hotel maids with panic buttons to protect them from sexual harassment and assault when working in isolated areas of the resort.

Ranchos Palos Verdes City Council has pushed back to 2019 an initiative to vote for a city-wide ordinance to install panic buttons for hotel housekeepers. Terri Hack, President of the Terranea Resort since its opening in 2009, has personally complained to members of the city council about the collection of signatures for the vote initiative and expressed concerns about union activity linked to the initiative. . In April 2018, attorneys for Terranea Resort formally wrote to the Ranchos Palos Verdes city attorney that the initiative “must be rejected if and when the” proponents “of the initiative file the signed petition with the Registrar’s Office. the city “.

Similar election initiatives are featured on the November 2018 ballot in Long Beach and Oakland, Calif., Where activists hope to join Chicago in adopting policies to protect hotel workers from sexual harassment. Chicago City Council passed a Hands Off, Pants On ordinance in October 2017. the hospitality industry.

A statewide bill was introduced in early 2018 by California State Representatives Wendy Carrillo, Bill Quirk and Al Muratsuchi, but was held up by the Senate Appropriations Committee of the state where the bill is now virtually dead after being passed by the state assembly in May 2018.

“I was very disappointed,” Muratsuchi, the bill’s lead author, said in an email to the Guardian. “This bill offered common sense protections against sexual assault and harassment, such as requiring panic buttons to be provided to housekeepers to call for help in an emergency. I want to make sure the Me Too movement leads to safer workplaces for all women, including hotel cleaners, many of whom are working class immigrants. I intend to reintroduce this bill and continue to fight next year.

Bill to protect hotel workers stuck in California State Capitol in Sacramento
A bill to protect hotel workers is stuck in the California state capital of Sacramento. Photograph: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

Despite these legislative efforts and reports from several former employees, current Terranea employees say hotel management still does not take reports of sexual harassment seriously.

Shortly after Sharon Merino started working as a barista at a resort café in April 2017, a maintenance worker in her 50s started harassing her whenever she met him on the resort property.

He found out that she was working as a teaching assistant outside the complex, which prompted him to refer to her as his “beautiful teacher” whenever he saw her, in addition to other inappropriate comments. on his appearance.

“The comments were getting more and more intense. I didn’t want to meet this person and changing the subject wasn’t working, ”Merino said. “He was catching up with me on the property to ask me why I was hiding from him. It got to the point where I didn’t want to leave my station at the cafe anymore. I didn’t know what else was going to happen.

After an incident in which he watched her outside the property while making vulgar comments about her, Merino spoke to his manager and went to human resources in December 2017 to make a statement formal.

“After I made my statement they said ‘maybe you didn’t tell him firmly enough or he thought you were playing’, but I said ‘no, I told him firmly enough ‘”, Merino added. She was told that he was no longer allowed to work in her area, but she started seeing him again after a few months. “My manager said not to tell my dad or my brother, who also work at the hotel, because I wouldn’t want them to be involved and get in trouble.”

Her harasser still works as a supervisor in her department, and Merino continues to remain uncomfortable and in constant fear at work due to the harassment.


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