More than 20 employees of La Cantera Hill Country Resort have filed a lawsuit after they say they were discriminated and retaliated against due to their race and nationality.
Local law firm The Espinoza Law Firm, PLLC has joined a federal, multi-million dollar lawsuit against the resort on behalf of 23 current and former employees. According to a press release from the law firm, the allegations were brought to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2014 after Destination Hotels & Resorts (DHS) took over management at the resort. That year, the Denver-based company implemented a policy prohibiting employees from speaking Spanish anywhere on the property.
DHS, meanwhile, disputes the allegations.
The lawsuit alleges that the policy even banned speaking Spanish when employees were on breaks and away from guests, and also barred employees from speaking to guests in Spanish even if the guests addressed them in Spanish first.
"They have people employed from other countries and continents, like Asia and Africa, and they speak their native languages," said lead plaintiff Alfredo Garcia. "We weren't allowed to speak Spanish. This policy is directed specifically toward Hispanics."
John Spomer, vice president and
managing director of the resort, said no such policy has ever existed. He said employees have always been able to communicate in any language "where appropriate." Spomer said employees were told to use common sense to not speak in a different language within earshot of guests if the guest didn't speak that language. He said that guests could interpret that as employees talking badly about them.
However, Spomer said employees were encouraged to speak to guests in their first language if they were approached by them. He said employees at the resort speak a combined nine languages, from English and Spanish to Farsi and Arabic. None of the employees, Spomer said, were prohibited from speaking their native language.
Another plaintiff, Francisco Andrade, said Spanish music was played throughout the hotel to reflect the Hispanic heritage embedded in San Antonio culture, but that employees were punished for speaking Spanish.
The current and former employees woh
are part of the lawsuit also allege
that DHS demoted Hispanic banquet captains, even if they had years of experience and no issues at work. They say they were replaced with non-Hispanic staff members. Spomer said racial and ethnic minorities make up 84 percent of the banquet staff.
"There have been different managers, but always strong Hispanic representation," Spomer said.
Plaintiffs' attorney Javier Espinoza said Spanish is the native language for many employees, allowing them to communicate more effectively and efficiently than in English.
"Speaking Spanish was an innate characteristic for these plaintiffs that had never presented a problem, business or otherwise, for this resort," Espinoza said. "They performed their work effectively and with pride."
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