A housekeeping manager at Riverhouse on the Deschutes referred to Hispanic people with a racial slur and threw a carton of ice cream at an employee, according to a recent lawsuit filed by a former employee who says he was fired after reporting discrimination.
A former assistant housekeeping manager, Matthew J. Armstead filed a lawsuit April 10 against Riverhouse and its parent company, Vesta Hospitality LLC of Vancouver, Washington. Armstead seeks at least $50,000 in economic damages, $100,000 in noneconomic damages and an injunction to stop employment discrimination practices.
Vesta, which acquired the local hotel and convention center in 2015, denies Armstead’s claims, said Wendy Lane, managing partner of the public relations firm Lane Finn Partners.
“Riverhouse on the Deschutes and Vesta Hospitality feel very strongly about treating all employees with respect and integrity,” Lane said in an email. “They have a 22-year record of doing so. Both companies have robust anti-discrimination, anti-retaliation, and human rights policies, which are enforced to create a safe and respectful working environment.”
Armstead was hired as a front desk supervisor in 2017 and promoted to assistant housekeeping manager on Jan. 6, 2018, according to the lawsuit. Armstead claims that, soon after his promotion, he began witnessing discriminatory behavior by his boss, housekeeping manager Chris McCoy.
McCoy critiqued the work of Hispanic employees differently than non-Hispanic employees, the lawsuit says. He consistently denied Hispanic housekeepers’ requests to coordinate schedules around carpooling but granted similar requests from non-Hispanic employees, the lawsuit says. He denied Hispanic employees’ requests for days off, and one housekeeper was “repeatedly and intentionally scheduled for days she requested off while non-Hispanic employees were routinely granted their schedule requests,” according to the suit.
Armstead also alleges that McCoy instructed another Hispanic housekeeper to do work that went against restrictions related to an on-the-job shoulder injury.
Armstead reported all of this to Vesta human resources officials, the lawsuit states. He first went to Debra Stewart, whom he says was dismissive. When he told her that several Hispanic employees had retained legal counsel, she replied that that was not unusual “when you’re illegal,” the suit states.
After that meeting, and after witnessing “persistent discrimination” against Hispanic housekeepers, Armstead reported incidents to Susanne Holmberg. She is listed on Vesta’s website as a member of the executive team, director of creative strategies and talent development.
Armstead claims that his reports of discrimination resulted in increased hostility from McCoy and assistant general manager David Lenke. At one point, McCoy transferred Armstead’s work items into the laundry room, leaving him without access to a computer, which he needed to complete his duties, the lawsuit states.
Armstead was demoted back to front desk supervisor on April 2, 2018, the lawsuit states. He filed a complaint of unlawful employment practices with the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries on May 2.
After returning from a vacation on May 21, he was summoned to a meeting with Lenke and Mark Hemmer, Vesta’s chief operating officer.
In that meeting, Armstead was asked to sign paperwork resigning from his position and withdrawing his complaint with the state, according to the suit. He refused and went back to work.
Armstead suffered “considerable anxiety” over the next several weeks and offered two weeks’ notice on June 19, according to the suit. Instead, he was escorted to his vehicle within an hour of giving notice. Armstead was effectively terminated, according to the lawsuit.
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