By Juliet Bennett Rylah
WEST HOLLYWOOD — More trouble is brewing for the Chateau Marmont as several former employees have called for a boycott of the hotel, alleging that they were let go without severance pay after years of service.
The hotel is also facing a lawsuit from another ex-employee who says she endured racism and sexism during the two years she worked as a banquet server.
A group of former employees staged a car rally March 16 outside the Sunset Strip hotel, famous for its celebrity clientele, holding signs saying, “Boycott Chateau Marmont.”
They have also asked supporters to sign an online pledge to boycott the hotel. Thus far, signees include actress Jane Fonda, who previously wrote about attending star-studded parties at the hotel on her blog.
The issue stems from a mass layoff of more than 200 employees at the onset of the pandemic. The employees received no severance pay or continued health benefits, according to the Los Angeles Times. In July, a spokesperson for hotelier Andre Balazs confirmed to the Times that the hotel would be converted into a members-only establishment. In the future, members would pay a fee to own shares of the hotel and have access to its rooms and amenities.
Several displaced workers provided statements via the hospitality workers union Unite Here Local 11, which has no union contract with Chateau Marmont, but has been providing support to its former employees.
Carlos Barrera, 63, said he worked as a parking attendant for 40 years. When he abruptly lost his job in the middle of a global health crisis, he said he was “left without health care and any savings for retirement, worried about how I would pay my $4,000 a month rent.”
Martha Moran, a housekeeper for 33 years, said she gave her entire life to the Chateau Marmont “and they left me no health care. I am diabetic and don’t know what I am going to do.”
About a month after the layoffs, Chateau Marmont launched an online store and a GoFundMe drive to benefit laid-off workers. The GoFundMe is no longer accepting donations, but raised $168,612. According to Maria Hernandez, communications specialist with Unite 11, it was not “nearly enough.”
“What workers have expressed they need is for Chateau Marmont to demonstrate a commitment to respecting its workers’ years of service by rehiring them in accordance with their legal rights and ensuring that all workers — regardless of their race, sex, or background — feel treated with dignity and respect,” Hernandez told a reporter.
Last spring, Los Angeles City Council passed a right of recall ordinance that requires several businesses, including hotels and event centers, that have laid off staff due to the pandemic to offer those employees their jobs back based on seniority when they are able to rehire. Several former Chateau employees organized to support the passage of the ordinance, and Hernandez said they will continue to lead the boycott until the Chateau demonstrates a commitment to rehiring them.
“Dozens of other hotels across Southern California have made legally binding commitments to recall workers according to seniority as the crisis subsides and continued to provide health care for workers while being laid off throughout this entire pandemic,” Hernandez said. “Meanwhile, workers who gave decades of their lives to the Chateau were told they needed to reapply and start as new when they were first fired and left with no company-provided health care.”
In January, former banquet server Thomasina Gross filed a complaint in L.A. Superior Court against the Chateau Marmont alleging racial discrimination and sexual harassment. Gross, who is Black, said she had been passed over for promotions several times in favor of white employees with less experience, some of whom she was later asked to train. She also said she complained numerous times about guests touching and groping her, but that management failed to act.
Juliet Bennett Rylah is a freelance reporter who covers Hollywood and West Hollywood. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.