This past September, dozens of Chateau Marmont employees broke the hospitality industry’s code of silence. They alleged to The Hollywood Reporter that the landmark hotel, a fabled industry hangout, is rife with racial discrimination and sexual misconduct, perpetuated by complicit management and ownership.
Now two civil actions, both brought by actor-staffers who lost their jobs when the pandemic devastated the lodging sector, seek to make the case in court.
The first was quietly filed at the federal level in December by Adrian Jules, a Black guest relations employee who began at the West Hollywood hotel in 2017, against Chateau owner André Balazs and his hotel group, which also owns Manhattan’s Mercer. Jules, who’s suing for employment discrimination, claims his superiors were negligent in their handling of his complaint when he received a series of unsolicited, explicit text messages from an inebriated white female colleague. (The messages, which THR previously reviewed, included an image of a used condom along with accompanying text reading, in part, “I’d just appreciate some more compassion.”) He’s said he experienced “constant ghosting” that spanned from his direct supervisor to the managing director to another young staffer who had been given responsibility for human resources issues.
“You have to think, as a man, and a Black man specifically, if you get a message like that, you’re immediately terrified,” Jules told THR. “What would have happened had I sent text messages like that to her?” He added, “You do what the employee handbook tells you to do, and nobody listens.”
The second lawsuit, whose plaintiff is events server Thomasina Gross, alleges racial discrimination, sexual harassment and retaliation. It was filed in L.A. County Superior Court on Jan. 27. Gross, who is Black, claims that, despite her significant experience and strong performance reviews, she was repeatedly passed over for higher-paying roles, including in the Chateau’s restaurant, in favor of several white hires who she then was responsible for training in their new duties.
Employees previously claimed to THR that the hotel was defined by systemic racism in its hiring, with Black and Hispanic employees less likely to be promoted, or slower to see advancement, than their white counterparts. Balazs, the white owner of the Chateau Marmont, was alleged to have exhibited a preference for hiring and promoting white workers “on the floor,” hospitality lingo for high-visibility roles. The Chateau, in turn, claimed that the majority of its regularly scheduled employees were nonwhite, including half its servers and department heads, and Balazs compared his hiring style to “hosting a delightful dinner party, the secret to the sauce is ‘in the mix’ — the success of this recipe allows for no discrimination based on race, color, creed, sexual orientation, gender, age or even the slightest hint of such bias.”
Gross pins responsibility in her situation on Chateau general manager Amanda Grandinetti, who is white. Other employees have described Grandinetti as directing racist or racially insensitive remarks toward them. (Gross claims that on one occasion Grandinetti told her that the leather jacket she was wearing, at another superior’s instruction, made it look as though she was “going to a disco,” and ordered her to immediately change.)
Grandinetti previously apologized for having “disappointed or offended people” and explained that, “in hindsight, I certainly see opportunities where I could have advocated more quickly for my team.” She remains in charge of hotel operations.
Gross’ litigation also focuses on another area that staffers have spoken about in the past: constant, unwanted touching by guests, and management’s unwillingness to address it for fear of alienating their clientele. She describes how, at nearly every event she worked, male guests brushed their hands against her breasts as they grabbed food off her tray, and pressed their genitals into her back or buttocks as she was tending to other patrons.
“Because the offenders would assault Ms. Gross while she was in the midst of serving other guests, she felt unable to show any reaction,” the complaint reads. “Her client-facing job required her to maintain her composure, even though the assaults made Ms. Gross feel sexually violated and disgusted. The fleeting, semi-public nature of the violations made any individual offense hard to prove — the offenders avidly maintained plausible deniability.”
Gross contends that her persistent effort over several years to encourage her superiors to take a stronger stance against sexual harassment, including by adding specific language to events contracts that specifically stated that the Chateau doesn’t condone touching staff or addressing employees in a derogatory manner, had no impact. She believes it was overridden by an institutional belief that such indignities are a routine consequence of hospitality work, and customers’ own contentment is paramount, especially at a luxury hotel.
“I don’t like having to leave my dignity at the door,” Gross tells THR. “It’s exhausting. We’re forced into a fight-or-flight mode. We’re conditioned to believe we have to expect this. I’m speaking out on behalf of myself and others who believe they’ll face retaliation. Changing the culture is my focus. No one should have to deal with this on a day-to-day basis.”
A Chateau spokesperson tells THR it doesn’t comment on ongoing litigation. However, its law firm has previously asserted that “workplace issues are regularly raised, as at any business, and swiftly investigated and addressed.” It also noted that “a whistleblower line is in place for employees to report issues or concerns directly to outside integrity counsel.” (Some workers have stated they felt uncomfortable contacting the integrity counsel, attorney Neil Getnick, because of a perception that he was close to Balazs.)
Balazs told THR in a September statement that he “never condoned, and the Chateau Marmont’s ‘Code of Conduct’ in conjunction with the ‘Employee Handbook’ specifically prohibits, any unwanted sexual contact with, or any verbal or physical abuse of, anyone at any time.” He added, “If, for any reason, our exceedingly clear ‘Code of Conduct’— which everyone must read and sign as a pre-condition of their employment — has been violated, it is my first, singular and moral obligation to correct it — and I will!”
Balazs himself has been repeatedly accused of unwanted touch and other sexually inappropriate behavior toward Chateau employees, either at work or during company events, as well as at the properties of the Standard hotel group, where he served as chairman and which he’d founded in 1998. He’s denied the allegations.
While Balazs has contended his 2017 departure from the Standard was a “friendly parting of ways,” the chain told THR: “There were a multitude of business and personal factors that contributed to the company’s termination of André’s employment, removal from the board and repurchase of his interests. We have a zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment. Much of what has come to light publicly since his separation [from The Standard] was kept from senior management.”
Gross, who is represented by a lawyer from Unite Here, the hotel workers’ union that’s been attempting to organize the Chateau for the past year, is drawing a constellation of supporters, including the head of her own guild, SAG-AFTRA. “What Thommi’s done here takes incredible courage,” says president Gabrielle Carteris, noting that a substantial proportion of her membership sustains itself with hospitality jobs. “Hopefully others will come forward. So many don’t feel they can tell their stories. They are so worried about losing their jobs. Everyone has the right to work with respect.”
Karen Eyres, the head of the National Organization for Women’s Hollywood chapter, called for a boycott of the Chateau. “We are committed to standing with her and other Chateau workers in their struggle for justice,” she says.
West Hollywood City Councilmember Sepi Shyne and State Sen. Ben Allen, whose district includes the Chateau, both say they will for now be refraining from visiting or staying at the hotel. “What Thommi Gross has described experiencing at the Chateau Marmont is unacceptable,” says Shyne. Adds Allen: “It’s so important that community institutions such as the Marmont listen to the voices of workers.”
Pastor Stephen “Cue” Jn-Marie of the L.A.-based Clergy for Black Lives believes that Gross’ experience is emblematic of modern-day “plantation capitalism: We have some people who can be exploited so that others can be gratified.” For her part, Gross says, “The Chateau tagline is ‘Always a safe haven.’ But it only applies to the clientele. It’s never been afforded to us, the employees, and that’s not OK. The Chateau has the opportunity to right its failures, just like our country does.”