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Chateau Marmont gave coveted jobs mostly to white people, lawsuit alleges

Chateau Marmont hotel
Chateau Marmont closed in March because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The owner plans to convert the 92-year-old building into a members-only hotel.
(Chris Pizzello / Invision/Associated Press)

The Chateau Marmont, a famed Hollywood hotel with a reputation for allowing celebrity guests to let their hair down, primarily promoted white people to the most coveted positions while workers of color were stuck in lower-paid, behind-the-scenes jobs, a lawsuit by a former employee alleges.

Thomasina Gross, a Black woman who worked as a banquet server for 2½ years at the Sunset Boulevard hotel, alleges in a lawsuit filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court this week that management passed her over for promotions, awarding the jobs instead to white people with less experience, and that management ignored her complaints about guests sexually harassing her.

“I’ve been a victim of several forms of harassment, including inappropriate touching and being berated by guests, and when I told managers about this, I was met with disregard and inaction,” Gross told reporters Thursday. “I’ve seen myself and my co-workers of color being turned down for better-paid, coveted positions or even the opportunity to secure more hours.”

The opportunities went to workers who were “more on brand” — a euphemism for attractive and white, she said.

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A Chateau Marmont spokeswoman said the hotel does not comment on pending litigation.

The hotel closed in March because of the COVID-19 pandemic and laid off about 240 employees, including Gross. In July the owner, Andre Balazs, announced plans to convert the 92-year-old building into a members-only hotel where only those who own shares of the property and pay regular fees to cover management costs can book rooms.

The lawsuit doesn’t address how much money Gross is seeking, but her attorney, Lauren Teukolsky, said she would be asking for compensation for the loss of the higher salary she would have received had she been rightly promoted, plus punitive damages. She’ll also seek a court order requiring the hotel to correct how it handles hiring and sexual harassment matters, Teukolsky said.

Gross said that when she was hired at the Chateau Marmont, she already had 15 years’ experience in high-end events and hospitality work and was praised by her new bosses at the hotel. But when she asked about higher-paying positions or waitstaff jobs that generated tips, Gross said, she was ignored.

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Over the next few years, three openings for the higher-paying management position of events captain were filled with two white women and a white man, despite Gross expressing interest in the position, according to the lawsuit. The suit says one of the women had so little experience in event management that Gross had to train her.

The lawsuit also alleges that the hotel developed an “anything-goes” ethos in which bad behavior by wealthy guests was often overlooked. When Gross worked, she said, guests often pushed up against her, groped her or physically intimidated her, but her more than 15 complaints to the hotel’s human resources representative were ignored.

According to her lawsuit, her supervisors responded to her complaints by saying that “touching was regrettable” but “inevitable,” that receiving such treatment “is part of the job” and that the guests were “used to being able to touch people.”

A Hollywood Reporter article published in September chronicled the complaints of several workers at the hotel, including allegations of sexual misconduct.

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Gross’ filing isn’t the only recent lawsuit to be brought against the famed hotel by a former employee.

Adrian Jules, a former guest relations employee who is Black, filed a discrimination lawsuit in December against the hotel and Balazs, alleging that his managers failed to properly handle his complaints about a series of unsolicited, explicit text messages from an intoxicated female colleague.

Balazs himself has been accused by several women of unwanted sexual contact — allegations that emerged in 2017. A representative for the hotelier did not respond to requests for a comment on the accusations.


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