Chateau Marmont lawsuit alleges racism, harassment

By Juliet Bennett Rylah

Contributing Writer

WEST HOLLYWOOD — A former Chateau Marmont employee has filed a lawsuit alleging she experienced racism and sexual harassment during the two and a half years she worked as a banquet server at the storied hotel.

Thomasina Gross filed the complaint in L.A. Superior Court Jan. 27. Gross, who is Black, brought a decade of experience in events and high-end hotels when she began working at the Chateau Marmont in October 2017. She received praise from her supervisors and let them know she was interested in being promoted to a higher-paying position, such as events captain or a server in the hotel’s restaurant.

Yet, despite her qualifications and experience, Gross said she was passed over for promotions multiple times in favor of white employees.

The Independent reached out to the Chateau Marmont for comment, but did not hear back.

“She watched as three event captain positions were filled with white candidates, including one external hire who appeared to have virtually no previous events experience,” Gross’s attorney, Lauren Teukolsky, told reporters during an online press conference on Jan. 28. “Thommi ended up teaching the new hire how to run events at the hotel while being paid less and given fewer hours.”

Gross said she eventually noticed that she wasn’t the only person of color who was seeking a promotion. Her complaint alleges that Chateau’s upper management and the heads of all departments other than housekeeping were all white. The restaurant server positions — highly coveted for their lucrative tips — also went to mostly white or light-skinned employees.

“We allege that the Chateau’s decision not to promote Thommi, despite her seniority and … experience, is part of a larger pattern and practice of race discrimination that pervades the entire employment structure of the Chateau,” Teukolsky said.

Gross also claims that the Chateau maintained an “anything goes” atmosphere for its guests, which often led to inappropriate behavior, especially when guests had been drinking. She complained to management several times about unwanted touching and groping as she served guests food and drinks during events, yet her reports were ignored and nothing was done to prevent this behavior in the future.

“The Chateau is one of Hollywood’s most recognizable landmarks known for its celebrity,” Gross said. “The company boasts the tagline ‘always a safe haven.’ While the employees extend that service to the clientele they cater to, the Chateau fails to extend that mission to their own loyal, hard-working staff,” Gross said.

Teukolsky pointed out that an employer may be held liable for third-party sexual harassment if they know about it, yet fail to take steps to prevent or stop it.

Gross and Teukolsky were joined during their press conference by SAG-AFTRA President Gabrielle Carteris and Kurt Petersen, co-president of Unite Here Local 11, which represents thousands of hospitality workers across Southern California and Arizona. Petersen said Local 11 reached out to SAG-AFTRA for support because many hospitality workers, like Gross, are also entertainers and belong to both unions.

Local 11 also supported more than 200 Chateau Marmont employees laid off in March amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Gross was among them, which she said gave her the opportunity to process her experience and decide to speak up on behalf of herself and her colleagues.

Hotelier Andres Balazs, who has owned the Chateau since 1990, has since stated his intention to turn it into a members-only hotel, though its restaurant will remain open to the public.

Gross is not the only former Chateau employee to allege racism or sexual harassment at the storied hotel. Last September, the Hollywood Reporter collected statements from more than 30 former employees who spoke out against unfair treatment from supervisors and guests.

One kitchen employee said a supervisor repeatedly directed racial slurs at Latino employees. A housekeeper said she reported a guest for exposing himself while she cleaned his room, expecting he would be banned. However, he continued to check into the hotel, making her feel “unsafe.”

In December, Adrian Jules, a former guest relations employee, filed a claim against Balazs and his hotel group, saying his superiors failed to handle explicit text messages a white female co-worker sent him.

Jules told the Reporter, “You have to think, as a man, and a Black man specifically, if you get a message like that, you’re immediately terrified. What would have happened had I sent text messages like that to her? You do what the employee handbook tells you to do, and nobody listens.”

Five employees told the Reporter that Balazs, who owns several hotels in addition to the Chateau, had touched them inappropriately at work or related events. The New York Times published similar allegations in 2017, with accusers including employees of his hotel brand and actress Amanda Anka, whose publicist confirmed allegations that he’d groped her at a party at his New York hotel, The Chiltern.

Juliet Bennett Rylah is a freelance reporter who covers Hollywood and West Hollywood. She can be reached at jbrylah@gmail.com.

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