Terranea Resort Employees Allege Years of Sexual Harassment

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Rancho Palos Verdes, California

"For all of the women who have stories, I want to say yes we can and we have power in our stories. Our stories are powerful," said Terranea "silence breaker" Sandra Pezqueda.

After eight women, employed or formerly employed at the elite Terranea Resort in Rancho Palos Verdes, California, revealed their own stories of sexual harassment and misconduct from the resort, organizations asked for a boycott doing business with the luxury resort or its ownership group Lowe Enterprises during a candid press conference on Thursday. 

The allegations against the resort were first exposed in a story published by The Guardian, which also arrived a year after TIME magazine's Silence Breakers cover story, shedding light on Sandra Pezqueda's case. Pezqueda previously worked as a subcontracted dishwasher at the resort and it was during that time she alleged that she was sexually harassed and assaulted by a supervisor. When she rebuffed him, she claimed that her hours were immediately cut. She also stated that she was terminated after reporting the abuse.

Dubbed as one of the "Terranea silence breakers," Pezqueda revealed that on one occasion, her supervisor attempted to kiss her at work. Though she was fired, she finds comfort knowing other women are coming forward. "I am very happy today because it's not only me, but there are other women who have decided to share their story." 

Pezqueda eventually settled her lawsuit against the Terranea and the staffing agency that directly employed her, with the agency agreeing to pay her $250,000 to settle all claims. 

Meanwhile, Silvia Jasmin Sanchez filed a lawsuit against Terranea last month, accusing its loss prevention manager, Stephen Harrington, of sexual harassment and assault. She claimed he sent her inappropriate text messages. Despite reporting the incident to HR, Sanchez alleged that her statements were brushed off. According to her lawsuit, Harrington sexually assaulted Sanchez for reporting him. 

Though six other women have also come forward with their own allegations, they have not filed lawsuits due to the statute of limitations. The women’s declarations describe, among other cases, alleged instances where guests exposed themselves to housekeepers when they went to clean guest rooms, as well as unwanted sexual attention from supervisors and co-workers.

Long-time workers' advocate Maria Elena Durazo, labor and civil rights leader Dolores Huerta, California NOW president Kolieka Seigel and Feminist Majority Foundation co-founder Katherine Spillar were also part of the Thursday discussion and applauded the women for speaking up.

"We are in a defining moment in the United States of America because I think all our country is focused on is what happens to women when they're sexually harassed. But when it comes to women who are working … immigrant women, linguistically challenged, they feel like they have no protection," explained Huerta. 

Meanwhile, Seigel found the lack of seriousness regarding women's stories a "shame." "It's a damn shame that three days after the #MeToo anniversary, days after the Kavanaugh hearing, corporations are not taking sexual harassment seriously," she said. "Sandra and all of the women needed to know that they would be heard and be believed. … They are us, and we are them. Their stories do not fall on deaf ears. We are listening. We stand in support of them." 

Though the Terranea Resort is recognized as a luxury location that has hosted conferences with prominent figures, including Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg, the resort immediately came under fire following Pezqueda's allegations in the summer of 2017. The company has also opposed an initiative that would protect their workers, including the implication of panic buttons for them to have in case of emergencies. Additionally, the Terranea Resort and its major investors Lowe Enterprises or JC Resorts did not publicly agree to support a recent statewide bill dubbed “Sandra’s Law” to protect sub-contacted workers, like Pezqueda, from sexual harassment by extending the joint liability provisions for subcontracted workers now in effect for wage theft to sexual harassment claims.

Their opposition, in turn, has sparked outrage, with organizations such as California NOWFeminist Majority Foundation and SAG-AFTRA calling on people, companies and partners to cut ties with the Terranea Resort, to pressure it into becoming a place where women are treated with respect and have the necessary precautions to be safe from sexual harassment and assault.

"It is time for corporations to take responsibility when you have women who have the courage to speak up, with the risk of losing their jobs, then it's up to the corporations to clean up their act, their business, their personnel … that people are going to respect the women," urged Huerta. 

"I will promise you, we will not rest. We will not be quiet. We will not stop until the women get what they deserve," said Pezqueda. "For all of the women who have stories, I want to say yes we can and we have power in our stories. Our stories are powerful."