Sanford Heisler Files $5 Million Race & Pregnancy Discrimination Suit Against Four Seasons Hotel

Hotel Harassed, Discriminated Against African-American Esthetician: Race and Pregnancy Status Cited in DC Superior Court Complaint

Aug 12, 2013, 09:59 ET from Sanford Heisler LLP

WASHINGTON, Aug. 12, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- Sanford Heisler LLP, one of the nation's leading civil rights law firms, today filed a suit in the Superior Court for the District of Columbia detailing discriminatory actions and civil rights violations by the Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts. The complaint details the Georgetown hotel's race and pregnancy discrimination against Lisa White, a popular and high-performing female African-American esthetician who worked in the hotel's spa.

"The Four Seasons created a racially hostile work environment for Mrs. White over a period of years by repeatedly ignoring her legitimate claims of race discrimination," said David Sanford, Founder and Managing Partner at Sanford Heisler and head of the legal team. "The hotel delayed and denied Mrs. White promotional opportunities, denied her the benefits of the spa's seniority policy, and subjected her to disparate discipline and consistent harassment in the workplace. When Mrs. White reported these actions to the hotel's Human Resources Department, she was subjected to retaliation and further harassment."

According to today's complaint, Mrs. White suffered and continues to suffer harm, including lost earnings and benefits, lost future employment opportunities, and other financial loss.  Most significant, however, are the non-economic damages that Mrs. White continues to suffer from, including severe emotional distress, humiliation and embarrassment which culminated in the tragic loss of her pregnancy after Mrs. White was well into her second trimester.

A resident of Brambleton, VA, Lisa White began working as an esthetician for the Washington, DC, Four Seasons at 2800 Pennsylvania Ave, NW, in September 2007.  She quickly developed a loyal client base. In recognition of her skill and positive contributions to the spa, the hotel's HR Director Stacey Coppel selected Mrs. White to receive the Designated Manager license, a critical license which the spa requires to perform facials and other esthetic services.

Throughout Mrs. White's tenure at the Four Seasons, the hotel consistently violated its seniority booking policy by giving Mrs. White's part-time, white colleagues priority in booking appointments.  The hotel also engaged in other discriminatory practices which negatively impacted Mrs. White's client base and earnings. 

In April 2012, the hotel became aware that Mrs. White was pregnant.  Mrs. White had been attempting to have a child with her husband for more than five years.  These facts did not deter the Four Seasons, however, according to the complaint.  In fact, the Four Seasons' discrimination and harassment against Mrs. White not only continued, but it escalated.

In May 2012, the Four Seasons rearranged Mrs. White's schedule in an attempt to make her unavailable for valuable appointments.  In June 2012, the hotel's discrimination became even more egregious.  Following a pregnancy-related hemorrhage, Mrs. White called the hotel from the Emergency Room to confirm her work schedule for the next day.  During the call, Mrs. White learned that her appointments had been moved once again in favor of a junior white esthetician.  As a result, Mrs. White filed an internal complaint. The next day, Mrs. White was suspended. 

After experiencing five years of continuous discrimination and harassment, Mrs. White went out on disability leave unable to cope with the emotional trauma. Within a matter of days she lost her pregnancy as a result of the stress caused by the Four Seasons.

Beginning as early as 2009, Mrs. White sought medical care for the emotional harm caused by the Four Seasons' hostile work environment.  She continues to seek medical treatment to this day and she remains on disability leave.

"The Four Seasons' conduct has been intentional, deliberate, willful, malicious, reckless and conducted in callous disregard of  Mrs. White's civil rights," said Brandon Jamison, a Sanford Heisler lawyer and member of the legal team.  "This is no way to treat a valued, capable employee who wants nothing more than a level playing field and equal treatment."

Four Seasons is a multinational corporation, with more than 35,000 employees in 36 countries.

The complaint asks for compensatory and punitive damages of $5 million, nominal damages, back pay, front pay, lost benefits, and other relief to which Mrs. White is legally entitled.  A jury trial is requested.

About Sanford Heisler

Sanford Heisler is a public interest law firm with offices in Washington, D.C., New York, and San Francisco that specializes in employment discrimination, wage and hour, qui tam and other civil rights matters.  The firm has extensive experience in complex class action litigation having successfully represented thousands of individuals in major class action cases in the United States. The firm also represents select individual clients with a particular emphasis on the representation of executives and lawyers in employment disputes and whistleblowers. In May 2010, the firm won the largest jury award in the U.S. in a gender discrimination employment class action when a jury returned a verdict of $253 million in compensatory and punitive damages against Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation.  In 2012, the firm settled a wage and hour case on behalf of sales reps employed by Novartis Pharmaceuticals for $99 million.  For more information, contact Sanford Heisler at (202) 499-5200.

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SOURCE Sanford Heisler LLP