TRENTON – Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino and the Division on Civil Rights announced today that a Hilton Homewood Suites hotel will pay a female ex-employee $35,000 to resolve allegations it unlawfully discriminated by paying male workers, including her own son, more than her for performing the same tasks.
In addition to paying former employee Rosa E. Lopez a cash settlement, Homewood Suites in Edgewater, Bergen County, will be subject to Division monitoring of its hiring, salary-setting and related complaint-handling processes for a period of two years. Under the settlement terms, Homewood Suites also is assessed a $10,000 suspended civil penalty. Any new violation of the state Law Against Discrimination (LAD) or failure to comply with the settlement announced today will result in revocation of the suspension, and an immediate obligation to pay the Division the full amount.
The hotel also must undertake a variety of internal reforms, including appointment of a Payroll Auditor to review payroll records and ensure there are no wage discrepancies among male and female workers who did, or presently do, similar work. Among other tasks, the Payroll Auditor is responsible for identifying any pay discrepancies and making recommendations for resolving them – including payment of any back wages due to an affected female employee.
In addition to the Homewood Suites in Edgewater, the Payroll Auditor requirement and other equitable relief terms laid out in the settlement – including adoption of revised procedures for handling wage-related complaints by workers and provision of anti-wage-discrimination training for employees involved with salary-setting – have been voluntarily adopted by three other New Jersey hotels. Those hotels include: Homewood Suites by Hilton in East Rutherford, the Hilton Garden Inn in Bridgewater, and the Holiday Express in Carlstadt.
“This settlement resolves some very troubling allegations, and should serve to remind employers across New Jersey that disparate pay for the same work based on gender – or any type of ‘other-ness’ for that matter – will not be tolerated,” said Attorney General Porrino.
“As I said when this Complaint was initially filed,” Porrino said, “we live in the 21st Century. Equal pay for equal work is not just some feel-good platitude. The notion of any employer – let alone one that is part of a national hotel chain – paying women less than men for the identical work is appalling, and could not be allowed to stand.”
“Employees should be judged on the quality of their work, not on some characteristic over which they have no control like their gender, race, or sexual orientation,” said Division Director Craig Sashihara. “It is particularly vexing to see an equal pay case pigeon-holed as ‘a women’s issue.’ It is more than a women’s issue. It is a family issue. It is a humanity issue. Across the country, discriminatory employment practices are damaging lives. So while we’re happy that this settlement will bring changes to four New Jersey hotels, we know there is still a long way to go.”
Filed in Superior Court in Bergen County in February of this year, the Division’s original complaint contained three counts against Rockaway Hotel LLC trading as Homewood Suites by Hilton – one count of gender discrimination and two counts of engaging in unlawful reprisal against a worker engaged in protected activity.
The complaint alleged that Homewood Suites hired Lopez in August 2011 to work in its housekeeping department at a starting wage of $8 per hour, and subsequently hired six male employees following Lopez’ employment – including Lopez’ son – to do the same housekeeping work at a starting wage of $9 - $10 per hour. At the time several of these men were hired, Lopez continued to earn $8 per hour. In August 2012 – a year after her hire – she was given a 20-cent raise.
In addition, the State’s complaint alleged that Lopez was offered an opportunity in June 2013 to work in the hotel’s transportation section and become a driver of the Homewood Suites courtesy shuttle at a rate of $10 per hour.
Under the hotel’s system of assigning personnel, courtesy shuttle drivers are scheduled to work in shifts and, when not needed to run the shuttle, are deployed to work in other hotel sections such as housekeeping.
A Division on Civil Rights investigation showed that Lopez, when not driving the shuttle, was typically assigned to work in housekeeping. As a driver, Lopez was paid the established driver rate of $10 per hour, but when not driving and assigned elsewhere, she was paid the lower hourly wage of $8.20 – the same wage she’d earned previously, when assigned exclusively to housekeeping.
Meanwhile, Lopez’ two fellow courtesy shuttle drivers – both men – were paid the higher, $10 per hour driver’s rate regardless of whether they were driving the shuttle or working in another capacity, such as housekeeping.
According to the State’s complaint, Lopez approached her supervisor, as well as the hotel’s general manager, about the disparity. In separate conversations with both, Lopez said she thought it was unfair that her male co-workers received $10 per hour whether they drove the shuttle or not, while she received $10 per hour only when she drove, and otherwise received a lower wage of $8.20 per hour.
Despite her expressed concerns about the disparity, nothing changed for Lopez. In September 2014, Lopez raised the issue with the Homewood Suites owner. Specifically, she told the owner she was being paid less than her male co-workers for performing the same duties.
Subsequently, Lopez was called into the general manager’s office. According to the State’s complaint, the general manager handed Lopez a letter terminating her employment and also rebuked Lopez for complaining directly to the owner about unequal pay. Lopez then contacted the Division on Civil Rights.
The hotel has denied any liability or wrongdoing in connection with the Lopez matter.
Under the settlement announced today, Homewood Suites must review and revise its procedure for receiving and investigating complaints about pay inequity. At a minimum, the revised policy must ensure that the person receiving or investigating an employee’s wage-related complaint is not the person who set, or is directly responsible for setting, that worker’s rate of pay.
The settlement also prohibits Homewood Suites from engaging in any type of retaliatory conduct against Lopez or members of her family, and stipulates that the company will provide Lopez a neutral employment reference.
Deputy Attorney General Farng-Yi Foo and Investigator Juliana Noriega handled the Homewood Suites matter on behalf of the State.
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