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A former supervisor with Omni Hotels & Resorts has filed suit against the Dallas-based company, alleging sexual harassment and saying the company broke federal laws governing equal pay.
The suit, filed this week in U.S. District Court for the Northern District, comes amid heightened attention to sexual harassment in the workplace as entertainment industry giant Harvey Weinstein and former Fox News anchor Bill O’Reilly face career-crushing consequences following multiple allegations of sexual assault.
It also comes shortly after the supervisor, Sarah Alicia “Emery” Lindsley was given a “right to sue” letter from the EEOC, after that agency backed her assertion that she had been paid less than men for the same work and had been retaliated against by the company after she spoke up.
“I am by far not the only woman that has experienced this,” said an emotional Lindsley at a Thursday news conference outside of the Earle Cabell Federal Building. “Maybe I just had enough to finally say something.”
The suit was filed against the upscale hotel chain and its owner TRT Holdings Inc., which is owned by billionaire Bob Rowling.
The company did not respond to detailed questions from The Dallas Morning News about its hiring and promotion practices, but it did issue two statements.
“We generally do not comment on litigation, however we cannot stand idly by while the reputation of our company is unfairly maligned. The implication that Omni Hotels & Resorts turns a deaf ear to complaints of harassment or that we condone any of the alleged conduct is completely baseless. Omni plans to vigorously defend this matter.
“Omni Hotels & Resorts expects all associates to treat each other with dignity, courtesy, and respect. Harassment or discrimination on any basis is strictly prohibited.”
The company also highlights its focus on diversity on its website.
Omni operates in a hotel industry that is often described as male-dominated. While figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that 56 percent of the workers in the “traveler accommodation” field are women, few are top executives and managers.
In her complaint, in detailed comments to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and before a bank of TV cameras, Lindsley described a “boys club” culture at Omni where she complained to human resources on behalf of herself and other women.
She worked for the company originally in Tucson and later in Corpus Christi, starting as a restaurant server and eventually rising to the rank of Executive Director of Food & Beverage in Corpus Christi.
“In 2007, Plaintiff made a formal complaint to Human Resources on behalf of two female servers who reported to her that [David Morgan, a then-general manager in Tucson] was sexually harassing them,” according to the complaint. “On information and belief, no corrective action came of the complaint.”
“Indeed, during Ms. Lindsley’s first meeting with Mr. Morgan in 2003, he sat so close beside her that he touched her entire right side and ran his hand through her hair,” the complaint said. “Mr. Morgan appeared insulted that Ms. Lindsley immediately excused herself and found a different seat.”
Morgan left Omni in July, according to his LinkedIn profile. That was two months after the EEOC’s determination in the case.
“In September 2015, Ms. Lindsley attended a wine promotion trip to Chile along with the company’s executive chefs and executive directors of Food & Beverage. Of the approximately 50 executives in attendance, Ms. Lindsley was one of only two women on the trip,” the complaint said.
“During the entire trip, male executives repeatedly subjected Ms. Lindsley to sexual harassment, including making comments about her appearance and her ability to earn money as a prostitute,” according to the lawsuit. “Ms. Lindsley was ostracized because of her refusal to participate in frequent strip club and brothel visits.”
“Ms. Lindsley complained to her area human resources director upon her return,” the complaint said. “Upon information and belief, no corrective action was taken in response to her complaint.”
Lindsley said she also complained about her pay.
It was not immediately clear how much pay data Omni turned over to the EEOC, but Lindsley’s attorney, James Vagnini of New York-based Valli Kane & Vagnini, said it was enough to convince the agency that there had been discrimination.
Her appeal for help from the EEOC created a new set of problems according to the complaint. After she went to the agency, “defendants reacted by unlawfully retaliating against her. Defendants revised down her evaluations in retaliation, misrepresented her [family leave] rights and pressured her not to take [family] leave to which she was entitled, and ultimately pushed her out of the company, constructively discharging her.”
“In May 2017, … the EEOC found that the Plaintiff was paid unequal wages in violation of both Title VII and the [federal] Equal Pay Act,” the suit said. “The EEOC also found that the Plaintiff was retaliated against for engaging in protected activity under Title VII and the Equal Pay Act.”
At Thursday’s news conference, Lindsley said the change she pressed for in the company went beyond money.
“The story is powerful,” she said, her voice cracking. “I asked them to put in a structure to make sure that this wouldn’t happen to anyone else.
“I wanted to set up a structure so we could feel safe.”
Written by Karen Robinson- Jacobs, Hospitality/Leisure Industry Reporter