Two Housekeepers at Hotel Accuse Supervisors

Two Housekeepers at Hotel Accuse Supervisors and Colleagues of Sexual Harassment.

For months, in the hallways and suites of a hotel in midtown Manhattan, two housekeepers said they were groped and sexually harassed by their superiors. When they complained to the general manager, nothing was done, they said, and after they took their story to a top hotel executive, they were dismissed.

The housekeepers, Kathy Saigado, 29, and Marina Abdullajeva, 28, who were paid $5 for each room they cleaned, said that two supervisors and two colleagues at the Club Quarters Hotel, at 40 West 45th Street, routinely grabbed their breasts and propositioned them. They also said the executive housekeeper demanded that they bow their heads when speaking to him.

“I felt like my rights as a human being were raped,” said Ms. Salgado, who emigrated from Ecuador. “When I complained to the general manager of the hotel, he just started laughing.”

The Club Quarters hotel caters almost entirely to business executives. Guests must be employees of member corporations. Room rates range from $95 to $285 a night.

Response to the Claims

After a five-month investigation, the New York State Division of Human Rights has found sufficient evidence to support the women’s claims of sexual harassment. A state investigator also found evidence that the women were dismissed in retaliation for complaining about the behavior of Eliot Manning, a supervisor; Hasan Kaseb, the head of housekeeping; Talat Pervez, a mechanic, and Maria Lahlu, another housekeeper. All four have denied the allegations.

Jon D. Horowitz, a lawyer for Midtown South Associates, one of several companies that have an interest in the hotel, said yesterday that the women were not harassed and that they only filed complaints after being dismissed in March 1994.

“There is no basis for the claims,” he said. “Midtown South Associates has a written sexual harassment policy, which it strictly enforces.”

Next Steps for the Complainants

The women were dismissed “for cause,” including “poor work quality and inability to work with others,” hotel executives told investigators.

Ms. Abdullejeva, who was twice named “Housekeeper of the Month” during 17 months at the hotel, responded, “Those are lies.”

“I’m scared to start all over again,” said Ms. Abdullajeva, who emigrated from Latvia. “I don’t want to work anymore at a hotel.”

The Office of Sexual Harassment Issues, a unit of the State Human Rights Division, has handled 859 case so far this year. In 40 percent of the cases, investigators have sided with the complainants.

“I’ve never worked on a sexual harassment case where the facts were as egregious as these,” said Joseph Maya, a lawyer who represents the former housekeepers and was a lawyer at the city’s Commission on Human Rights for five years.

Mr. Maya said each woman was seeking $2 million in damages.

Additional Accusations

In a separate action in State Supreme Court in Manhattan, Mr. Maya filed a lawsuit on behalf of another former housekeeper, Monica Quintana, against the hotel and the four employees, also charging sexual harassment.

Ms. Salgado said the sexual harassment began almost immediately after she was hired by the hotel in January 1994. “They would grab me in the hallway,” she said. “And they made comments.”

She said Mr. Pervez made sexually-laced comments and jokes to her. Several times, she said, while she sat in the employee cafeteria, he intentionally brushed his crotch against the back of her neck as he passed.

She said she complained to the executive housekeeper, Mr. Kaseb. In response, she said, he locked his office door, grabbed her from behind and told her, he was “tired of these complaints.”

Ms. Salgado and Ms. Abdullajeva both said they complained to the hotel manager, Frank Nicholas. But, Ms. Salgado said, Mr. Nicholas excused Mr. Kaseb’s behavior by saying, “This is the way they treat women in Iran.”

Shortly before they were dismissed, Ms. Salgado and Ms. Abdullajeva said they complained to Al Van Ness, a top hotel executive. “He denies having heard any complaint,” said Mr. Horowitz, the hotel lawyer.

The Aftermath

In finding probable cause, a state investigator said two former employees corroborated the two women’s’ allegations. The investigator also noted that the hotel’s 48-page employee handbook, which includes a sexual harassment policy, is distributed to management but is not given to other employees.

Ms. Salgado and Ms. Abdullajeva said they have searched for housekeeper jobs since they were dismissed but have had no luck. “The problem is references,” Ms. Salgado said. “I have to tell them I worked in a hotel and I was sexually harassed. They feel sorry for me, but who wants to hire somebody who has been mentally destroyed?”

The New York Times Metro Section
By Don Van Natta Jr.