Beverly Hills Hotel Sued for Harassment

Five former employees are suing the Beverly Hills Hotel, its former general manager and another employee for alleged misconduct, which they say involved sexual harassment and racial discrimination.

At the center of the suit, which was filed in LA Superior Court Wednesday, is Alberto del Hoyo, who retired as the hotel’s general manager last week for reasons apparently unrelated to the claims against him.

According to the claims in the lawsuit, Del Hoyo engaged in “racist, sexist and illegal conduct” that was tolerated by other managers.

Hotel officials first received complaints about del Hoyo in the summer of 2006 when he allegedly grabbed a female employee by the buttocks and pinned her against an office machine, according to the lawsuit. Read the full lawsuit here (pdf).

The plaintiffs claim, however, that the hotel took no “corrective action” against del Hoyo and even “protected” him by settling the woman’s lawsuit, with the result that “his harassment of women continued unabated.”

Del Hoyo’s alleged misconduct was often directed at hostesses of the Polo Lounge, the hotel’s famed watering hole, according to the lawsuit.

“He would greet the hostesses in such a way,that he would be able to touch them on the hand and then also be able to touch their breasts,” Rob Hennig, an attorney representing the plaintiffs, told NBC4 LA.

Two of the plaintiffs, Wendy Giron and Kelley Morales, both former Polo Lounge hostesses, quit more than a year ago because, they assert in the suit, del Hoyo frequently fondled them in plain sight, right at the hostess’ podium.

Both declined to be interviewed for this story because of what they say is the graphic nature of the allegations. “The two women are embarrassed,” Hennig said. “They really don’t want to appear on camera because of the embarrassment of the lawsuit and the publicity that may be generated by it.”

Robert Sulatycky, another plaintiff in the lawsuit, resigned a year ago from his position as regional director of culinary food and beverage operations at the hotel and its local sister establishment, the Hotel Bel-Air.

“It was a very sexually charged, racially charged environment,” Sulatycky told NBC4 LA. He said he quit his prestigious position because he was “subjected to racist and sexist comments from Mr. Del Hoyo on a…near daily basis.”

Another plaintiff, West-Indian wine expert and sommelier, Nino O’Brien, alleges in the complaint that he suffered racial discrimination first-hand from del Hoyo and was denied promotion “as a person of color.”

“I tried to approach him to talk about getting a promotion, and he’d always avoid me,” O’Brien to NBC4 LA. “He wouldn’t talk to me. He would never shake your hands either.”

O’Brien also complains about another hotel manager, Micah Paloff, alleging in the suit that Paloff frequently referred to him as “a dark leprechaun” because of his skin color and partial Irish heritage.

Laura Shelby, an attorney for del Hoyo, Paloff and the hotel, advised NBC4 LA in a written statement, “The allegations made by these former employees are wholly without merit and we will vigorously defend this matter on behalf of the defendants.”

Del Hoyo is almost as famous among hotel aficionados as the hotel itself, fondly known as the “Pink Lady” because of her blush-colored façades.

The dashing Spaniard behind the chic aviator glasses took over in 1997 after distinguished managerial tours at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Los Angeles and the Ritz Carlton in Singapore.

For the next fourteen years he ruled the majestic “BHH and Bungalows” – also known as “The Pink Palace” -- with a master’s touch, bringing many new customers to the hotel, with its luxurious rooms and lounging areas, palm-shrouded gardens, and storied poolside cabanas.

Under his guidance the iconic Polo Lounge, once the hangout for Sinatra and Monroe, made a comeback as a choice destination for today’s take-no-prisoners trend-setters.

The allegations against del Hoyo come after a distinguished career which earned him many admirers in the hotel industry and at the Dorechester Collection, the hotel's London-based parent company.

In 2000 he was included among the world’s top ten hotel general managers by LEADERS magazine, and was named “Independent Hotelier of the World” by HOTELS magazine, and “Best Hotelier Worldwide” by The American Academy of Hospitality Sciences.

Four years later The Leading Hotels of the World, an industry group, honored him as a “Leaders Club Winner,” and in recent months, under his management, the Beverly Hills Hotel received its second Five-Star rating from Forbes Travel Guide.

But the allegations in the lawsuit paint a different picture.

Sulatycky is quoted in the complaint as saying he observed del Hoyo repeatedly – in staff conclaves and semi-public settings -- touching women employees sexually.

Sulatycky told NBC4 LA: “I did witness the rubbing of females’ legs or thighs, a lot of kissing, hand-holding, arms resting around their backs where his hand was resting on their upper buttocks."

Sulatycky also alleged that del Hoyo described African-Americans as being “too lazy” to work and made similarly racist comments about Mexicans.

On his own first day on the job, according to the lawsuit and Sulatycky’s interview with NBC4 LA, del Hoyo asked to see the label in his suit and upon discovering it was made in Mexico, allegedly exclaimed, “Oh my God!... Nothing good comes from Mexico.”

In addition, Sulatycky told NBC4 LA, del Hoyo frequently referred to Mexicans as “wetbacks."

Sulatycky also claims in the suit that del Hoyo’s often used racial and derisive remarks in open staff meetings to refer to other targets – “frogs” and "froggie" for his French colleagues, and “Ding Dong" for the British CEO of his own company.

And when del Hoyo learned that Sulatychy's own surgeon at Cedars Sinai was Indian, he allegedly remarked – according to the suit -- that he would never let an “Indian” work on him.

Paloff is identified in the suit as allegedly making disparaging remarks based on sexual orientation.

In the suit O’Brien alleges that Paloff attempted to disparage him as being gay, based on his West Hollywood address, even though O’Brien describes himself as heterosexual.

In an interview and in the complaint, O’Brien said that Paloff often taunted him by asking if he had a predilection for what might be politely described as sodomy, though, he said, Paloff did not use such a polite term.

O’Brien recently resigned after three years on the job because, he said, the stressful environment and Paloff’s alleged remarks caused him migraines and undermined his health and self-esteem.

“It’s not the same hotel I started at,” he said, “which was a dream job to have.”

“He was a dictator,” Sulatychy remarked of the general manager’s conduct. “Obviously Human Resources [staffers] wanted to protect their jobs and so it was brushed under the carpet.”

“I think a lot of people knew about this and were scared to come forward,” plaintiff’s counsel Rob Hennig added, “and these folks are just being brave enough to step forward and say this behavior has to stop.”

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