Sexual harassment scandal

Safety of hotel workers in the spotlight

BEVERLY HILLS • Are hotels that draw famous clients safe to work in? The question has arisen after the Peninsula Beverly Hills made news with several actresses, including Ashley Judd and Gwyneth Paltrow, accusing Harvey Weinstein of using the cover of work meetings there to sexually harass them.

There is no evidence he abused hotel workers, but employees said hotels too often put discretion and deference to powerful customers before the well-being of female staff.

The New York Times interviewed eight current or former Peninsula staff and also reviewed several lawsuits by men and women who worked at the hotel, accusing co-workers of sexual misconduct.

The employees said they often felt helpless next to Hollywood titans whom the hotel went to extreme lengths to please. But Mr Offer Nissenbaum, its managing director, said: "We have employed thousands of people over 25 years and while we are not perfect, we do our best to... ensure their well-being."

He added that the hotel will report illegal behaviour to the police.

Some Peninsula workers said they were unaware of Weinstein's behaviour, but knew of his infamous temper. Once, he was using his cellphone in the lobby when a new worker, regrouping after a stressful check-in, let out a sigh. He stomped over and berated the employee.

Mr Nissenbaum provided a hotel sexual harassment policy that he said had been part of the employee handbook since at least 2003.

A bartender said after a co-worker in 2012 touched her inappropriately, the hotel's director of security chided her for going to the police. It settled the lawsuit in February for an undisclosed sum.

Two female cooks at the hotel said in a 2008 lawsuit that supervisors misbehaved sexually. The parties later reached a settlement.

Ms Susan Minato, a co-president of hotel workers' union Unite Here Local 11 in Los Angeles, said non-union housekeepers told her they avoided reporting harassment for fear of being fired.

A survey of hotel workers in Chicago found that 58 per cent had been sexually harassed by a guest. Union organisers said immigrant staff were especially vulnerable.

Weinstein frequently turned a fourth-floor Peninsula suite into his headquarters-away-from-home.

On a late-summer day in 1998, actress Lola Glaudini, then 26, arrived at the hotel for what she expected to be a meeting about her acting career. An assistant whisked her upstairs and left her in a suite.

From the bedroom, Weinstein walked out in hardly any clothing, she said. He tried coaxing her into bed and, when she declined his advances, told her about actresses he claimed to have slept with, including Paltrow.

"All I just kept wanting to do was get the meeting on track," Glaudini said. Afterwards, she said she steadied herself with a glass of wine at the hotel bar, scanning women who walked in for someone she feared might become his next victim.

She said she told her father and her then boyfriend, now husband.

A few days later, Weinstein sent her a card urging her to contact his development team if she came up with a project, she said.

He told her he would be happy to join the meeting.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 19, 2017, with the headline 'Safety of hotel workers in the spotlight'. Print Edition | Subscribe