A South Beach hotel will pay $2.5 million to settle a discrimination lawsuit filed by Haitian dishwashers who claimed they were fired because of their race and nationality and were called “slaves” by supervising chefs.
On Monday, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said that the SLS Hotel South Beach will pay 17 Haitian employees who filed the suit in April 2017.
According to the lawsuit, the dishwashers at restaurants in the SLS South Beach, in the 1700 block of Collins Avenue, were called “slaves” by chefs and forbidden from speaking Creole despite Hispanic employees being allowed to speak Spanish. The lawsuit also said the Haitian staffers claimed that they were fired because of their nationality and race.
The employees worked in the hotel’s restaurants: The Bazaar by Jose Andres, Katsuya, and the Hyde Beach.
When the dishwashers reported the discrimination to the company’s human resources, the entire dishwashing division which was primarily made up of black Haitians was fired in April 2014, according to the lawsuit. The dark-skinned dishwashers were replaced by mostly light-skinned Hispanic employees, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said in a statement.
As part of the settlement, the hotel’s parent company, SBE Entertainment Group, will also provide comprehensive training for human resources staff and managers. Federal officials will also monitor the company which owns six hotels in the Miami area for the next three years, taking note of firings and layoffs.
Jim Greeley, a spokesman for SBE, said the company denies the allegations in the lawsuit but decided to settle so all the parties could move forward. He claim the company decided to switch to an outside firm to handle the dishwashing at SLS restaurants for economic reasons and more than 30 employees were let go as part of the transition.
“We felt if we could resolve this amicably and help take care of these former employees, that was the right thing to do,” said Greeley, who noted that the company has more than 200 employees of Haitian descent at its Miami properties.
“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.”