Black Employees at Trump Hotel Restaurant Allege Racial Discrimination, File Lawsuit

Donald Trump
Donald Trump (Courtesy photo)

Before the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., even opened in September 2016, it had become a gathering point for anti-Donald Trump demonstrators protesting against his divisive and racist rhetoric. Black employees of BLT Prime restaurant located in the luxury hotel who say they’ve experienced racist comments, inexplicable shift switching and more are now suing.

Three employees filed a civil complaint against the Trump Organization and the managing director at the Trump International Hotel in D.C. on Wednesday in D.C. Superior Court alleging racial discrimination, according to The Washington Post. Irving Smith Jr., a current BLT employee, and former employees Dominique Hill and JaNette Sturdivant are all plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

They allege that the Trump Organization and hotel managing director Mickael Damelincourt subjected Black employees to discriminatory behavior by other staff and by guests, in addition to routinely steering Black employees to shifts that made less money. Smith alleges that a co-worker told him after the presidential election, “This is white America time, you need to get used to it, and if you don’t get used to it you should go work somewhere else.’”

Smith said when he complained to management, it “fell on deaf ears.” Sturdivant, a 34-year-old Black woman, said the server manager told her when she first started that “it’s good to see someone with Milano complexion,” but her complexion still never got her any “moneymaking” shifts.

Hill, the first bartender hired by BLT Prime, said he ended up working almost exclusively at lunchtime. He said he made less than $400 a week while working 30-plus hours.

He lost his job after spilling a bloody Mary on a baby during a weekend brunch. But Hill said a white employee who’d spilled champagne on a bride’s wedding dress was not fired.

The plaintiffs, who are seeking $14.5M in damages, said the restaurant started with at least 15 Black employees when it opened and that there are now just four.

The Trump Organization, which owns the hotel, called the lawsuit a publicity stunt.

“The plaintiffs worked for a third-party restaurant company that is solely responsible for the direction, supervision, and management of its own employees. In short, this lawsuit appears to be nothing more than a desperate, politically-motivated publicity stunt,” Amanda Miller, a spokeswoman, said.

ESquared Hospitality, the company that operates BLT Prime, “wholeheartedly” refuted the allegations. Unlike most workers in the hotel, Smith and Hill were not employed directly by the Trump Organization, but by ESquared, according to the Post. In March, Hill filed a discrimination charge with the D.C. Office of Human Rights and underwent mediation in July with attorneys for ESquared. He presented the paperwork to the newspaper.

A.J. Dhali, a D.C. attorney who represents the plaintiffs, said “the Trump Organization had control over the BLT employees’ employment because of the nature of the management contract between the hotel and ESquared,” according to the Post. “Whether other Black employees were treated well or not was not the issue for the court to consider, he said.”

BLT Prime Joins Hotel After Celebrity Chefs Opt Out

In 2015, Donald Trump Jr., who now leads the Trump Organization with his brother, Eric, said BLT Prime is the “perfect fit” for the hotel.

“There is a tremendous amount of interest and buzz surrounding Trump International Hotel, Washington, D.C. We are confident that BLT Prime is the perfect fit and we are thrilled with our decision to partner with them,” Trump Jr. said in a joint statement with BLT Prime’s owner ESquared Hospitality.

BLT Prime came on board after top celebrity chefs decided not to partner with Trump because of his rhetoric.

Trump had sued chef Geoffrey Zakarian in 2015 for $10 million after the restaurateur scrapped plans for a restaurant in hotel after Trump called Mexican immigrants entering the United States rapists and criminals. In April, Trump’s family business reached a settlement with Zakarian. Terms of the settlement were not disclosed.

The same month, the Trump Organization and celebrity chef Jose Andres also reached a settlement over a canceled agreement on a restaurant at the hotel. Andres, who was born in Spain and is a U.S. citizen, also had pulled out of his deal over Trump’s disparaging comments about Mexicans, saying they harmed all immigrants.

Keith Treyball, president of ESquared, told The Washington Post in 2015 the company had no concerns over Trump’s earlier incendiary comments, which prompted protests in front of the future hotel.

Trump Jr. took over as president of the Trump Organization in February. Critics said it was a conflict of interest for his father to run the hotel while also running the federal government that is leasing the building to his company. Trump said he would keep ownership of his global business empire but control is in the hands of his two eldest sons. Watchdogs have said the arrangement would not prevent conflicts of interest in the White House, according to Reuters.

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