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Hyatt hotel near Palm Springs accused of ‘unlawfully’ firing gay chef

Lawsuit says hotel backs supervisor who expressed ‘disgust’ for gays

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Hyatt Regency Indian Wells

Hyatt Regency Indian Wells Resort and Spa. (Photo by Prayitno via Flickr)

A lawsuit that accuses a Hyatt Regency hotel located near Palm Springs, Calif., of supporting a supervisor who allegedly hatched a scheme to fire a gay chef after expressing “disgust and repulsion” for gay people is scheduled to go to trial on Aug. 9.

The lawsuit charges the Hyatt Corporation on behalf of its Hyatt Regency Indian Wells Resort and Spa hotel located in the city of Indian Wells, Calif., near Palm Springs, with wrongful termination and four other employment-related offenses for its decision to fire Dewy Rains, 58, an openly gay chef.

The lawsuit was filed in May 2018 in the Superior Court of the State of California for the County of Riverside.
It says Rains worked at Hyatt hotels at various locations since 1998 and worked as a banquet chef at the Hyatt in Indian Wells since 2007. It says he had an “exemplary” work performance record for 19 years without a single blemish up until November 2017.

It was at that time, the lawsuit charges, that Lawrence Eells, a newly hired executive chef who became Rains’ supervisor, “fabricated” allegations to “unlawfully and pretextually justify his wrongful termination” four months later on March 23, 2018. The lawsuit names Eells as a defendant in addition to the Hyatt Corporation.

“In or around October 2017, and within just mere days of Eells’ start as the Executive Chef at Hyatt Indian Wells, Eells pulled aside [Karine] Moulin (the kitchen manager and pastry chef),” the lawsuit says. “During this conversation, Eells ‘demean[ed] and belittle[ed] other Hyatt employees,” the lawsuit states.

“For no legitimate work-related reason, Eells also demonstrated personal disgust and repulsion for Rains and another gay Hyatt employee in the culinary department, and Eells’ disagreement with their gay ‘lifestyle,’” the lawsuit attributes Moulin as saying in a sworn statement.

The lawsuit also charges the Hyatt Corporation on behalf of Eells and other company officials with engaging in age and disability related discrimination against Rains for not providing reasonable accommodations for his status as a cancer patient and his need to take off from work for medical tests.

The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT advocacy group, has given the Hyatt Corporation a perfect score of 100 in its 2019 annual Corporate Equality Index, which rates U.S. corporations on their polices for protecting the rights of LGBT employees.

A spokesperson for the Hyatt Corporation didn’t respond to a phone message from the Blade seeking comment on the lawsuit.

In court documents responding to the lawsuit, the Hyatt Corporation denies all of Rains’ allegations of discrimination, saying that Eells and other hotel officials fired Rains for legitimate job performance issues.

Among other things, a Hyatt court brief calling for a dismissal of the lawsuit on summary judgment alleges that Rains was subjected to disciplinary action because he falsified an employee time card to hide the fact that the employee showed up for work late.

“After a few weeks under a new supervisor, Plaintiff was placed on a Performance Improvement Plan [PIP] that identified over twenty areas of deficiency in his performance and did not mention anything about his age, sexual orientation, or years-old cancer diagnosis,” Hyatt’s attorneys state in a motion to dismiss the case.

“Four months later Plaintiff was fired for failing to improve his performance in the areas outlined in the PIP and for altering the schedule of one of his subordinates to conceal the subordinate’s tardiness,” the Hyatt court filing says.

It adds that Rains “never witnessed” Eells or company personnel officials say or do anything to suggest the adverse personnel action was motivated by his age, sexual orientation, or cancer diagnosis.

In his response to the Hyatt motion to dismiss, Rains’ attorney, Kamran Shahabi, argues that Hyatt’s claim that Rains suddenly performed poorly at work after Eells became his supervisor lacks any credibility.

“There is no coincidence that, after zero performance-based issues for nearly 20 years of employment with Hyatt, Rains was given a pretextual performance improvement plan (that was subsequently retracted) – and fired just months after Rains made complaints of discrimination against defendant Lawrence Eells, who was newly hired as Rains’ supervisor in late 2017,” according to court papers filed by Shahabi opposing the motion to dismiss.

Shahabi told the Blade that Rains filed an internal complaint against Eells before a Hyatt employee grievance office accusing Eells of targeting him for discrimination, among other reasons, because he’s gay. The complaint prompted Eells to retaliate against Rains, the lawsuit charges, in another action that the lawsuit says violates state law in employment cases.

In a mixed ruling on July 2, Superior Court Judge Daniel A. Ottolia rejected Hyatt Corporation’s request for a full dismissal of the lawsuit and each of its 11 claims of wrongdoing and instead agreed to dismiss six of the claims.

The judge left standing five claims of action that Shahabi said represent the heart of the case and affirm that the lawsuit presented “substantial evidence” of wrongful termination and other charges sufficient to advance the case to a trial.

The five remaining claims set for trial on Aug. 9 are wrongful termination, retaliation, failure to prevent retaliation, negligent hiring (of Eells), and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

“Frankly, the judge made our case much simpler because all of those facts related to Dewey’s sexual orientation discrimination, age, disability, etc. will come into evidence for these causes of action,” Shahabi told the Blade.

He said there have been no serious discussions of a possible settlement of the case, but Rains would be willing to consider a proposed settlement should the Hyatt Corporation offer such a settlement.

“The ball is in their court,” he said. “We’ve engaged them in discussions and they’ve kind of been not interested. But cases can settle on the doorsteps of the courthouse, so it’s always a possibility.”

This story has been updated and corrected. – KO

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Hong Kong activist dismisses calls for Gay Games boycott

WTA suspended China tournaments after tennis player disappeared

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Hong Kong Marriage Equality Co-founder Gigi Chao (Photo courtesy of OutRight Action International)

HONG KONG — An LGBTQ activist in Hong Kong on Tuesday dismissed calls to boycott the 2023 Gay Games over China’s human rights record.

“In Hong Kong, the team behind Gay Games has really worked tirelessly to bring it to Hong Kong and it will be a very good opportunity to showcase diversity and people working together and the human spirit at its best,” Gigi Chao told the Los Angeles Blade during a telephone interview from Hong Kong. “So, if it all gets rather political and if you twist the sentiments of what they want China to be, it will just really not work.”

Chao is the co-founder of Hong Kong Marriage Equality, a group that seeks to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples in the former British colony. Chao also founded the Faith in Love Foundation, a group that seeks to increase awareness of LGBTQ issues in Hong Kong.  

Chao is a member of the OutRight Action International board of directors. Chao is slated to speak in the group’s annual summit that will take place virtually this week.

“All eyes are peeled on the events of next year: The Beijing Olympics, the relationship between Beijing and the U.S. as relationships either improve or sour over the course of the next 12 months and also trade and the global economic situation … it’s not a rosy picture by all means,” Chao told the Blade. “Everybody is bracing for the worst in terms of how the world recovers from COVID, but LGBTIQ rights continue.”

Chao said Dennis Philipse, a Hong Kong resident who co-chairs Gay Games Hong Kong, and his colleagues “want the Gay Games to be a celebration of the human spirit in terms of sport.”

“In Hong Kong, there’s certainly no shortage of people engaged in sport and enjoying sports,” said Chao.

Gay Games Hong Kong in September announced the postponement of the quadrennial event until 2023 because of the pandemic. The Federation of Gay Games, which oversees the Gay Games, awarded the games to Hong Kong over D.C. and Guadalajara, Mexico.

Hong Kong was a British colony until China regained control of it in 1997.

Upwards of 2 million people took part in pro-democracy protests that took place in Hong Kong in 2019.

Hong Kong’s National Security Law, which, according to human rights activists, makes it easier for authorities to punish anyone who challenges the Chinese government, took effect in 2020. Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, who is closely aligned with the Chinese government, supports the statute.

The Women’s Tennis Association last week announced the suspension of tournaments in Hong Kong and throughout China in response to the disappearance of Peng Shuai, a Chinese tennis star, after she publicly accused former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault. The Biden administration on Monday announced a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics that are slated to take place in Beijing in February.

“The Federation of Gay Games continues to monitor the situation in Hong Kong regarding COVID-19, the National Security Law and all other aspects that affect the safety and security of our event,” Sean Fitzgerald, co-president of the Federation of Gay Games, told the Blade in a statement after the Women’s Tennis Association announced it had suspended all of its tournaments in China. “We are committed to hosting Gay Games 11 in Hong Kong in November 2023.”

Chao acknowledged Gay Games organizers are “facing a lot of opposition from all directions.” Chao also noted Hong Kong’s government is “not actually positively promoting it.”

“If we can get really high-profile athletes to participate, I think that’s going to be a huge call for everybody to participate,” said Chao.

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Iowa

Iowa State Appeal Board settles lawsuits by anti-LGBTQ religious groups

The Christian groups claimed the university had violated their constitutional rights to free speech and the free exercise of religion

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The University of Iowa during Homecoming (Photo Credit: The University of Iowa)

DES MOINES – The Iowa State Appeal Board, made up of Iowa state Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald, Auditor Rob Sand and Department of Management Director Kraig Paulsen, approved disbursing nearly $2 million in state funds to settle two Federal lawsuits brought against the University of Iowa in 2017 after a religious group denied an openly gay student a leadership role. 

According to the Associated Press in a U.S. News article Monday, lawyers for the student group Business Leaders in Christ were awarded $1.37 million in fees and costs for litigating their case. A second student group, Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, won their federal court case and will be paid $20,000 in damages and about $513,000 in attorney fees.

The groups claimed the university had violated their constitutional rights to free speech and the free exercise of religion.

The monetary amounts were negotiated between the university and the plaintiffs in both cases and approved by a federal judge. Monday’s approval by the State Appeal Board authorizes the state to make the payments the AP reported.

In March of this past Spring, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Business Leaders in Christ after the University of Iowa had ordered group was dismantled in 2017 after claiming the student group violated its Human Rights Policy.

As reported by The Daily Iowan, Marcus Miller, a UI sophomore at the time, filed a discrimination complaint against the Business Leaders in Christ after the group  revoked a leadership position from Miller upon finding out his sexual orientation.

A new law that requires state universities and community colleges to adopt policies that prohibit them from denying benefits to a student organization based on the viewpoint of the group was implemented in 2019.

“In addition, a public institution of higher education shall not deny any benefit or privilege to a student organization based on the student organization’s requirement that the leaders of the student organization agree to and support the student organization’s beliefs, as those beliefs are interpreted and applied by the organization, and to further the student organization’s mission,” the law reads.

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New York

New state charges against man who threatened LGBTQ+ New Yorkers

Fehring is being charged with criminal mischief and grand larceny as a hate crime in the Sayville, Long Island case

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Los Angeles Blade file photo by @strekoza.nyc

RIVERHEAD, Ny. – The man arrested by FBI agents on Monday charged in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York for mailing letters threatening to assault, shoot, and bomb LGBTQ+ affiliated individuals, organizations, and businesses, was arrested Tuesday on state charges.

Tri-state news outlet News 12 New York reported that Robert Fehring, 74, a resident of Bayport, New York on Long Island, surrendered to Suffolk County police detectives accused of stealing almost two dozen pride flags back in July from Long Railroad Avenue in Sayville.

Eileen Tyznar has organized the LGBTQ parade for the past three years in Sayville. She saysshe lived in fear and would constantly get threatening letters. She is now relieved Fehring was arrested she told News12.

The stolen pride flags inside his home were discovered while executing the Federal search warrant, Suffolk police said.

On November 18, 2021, members of the FBI’s Civil Rights Squad and the New York Joint Terrorism Task Force executed a search warrant at Fehring’s home in Bayport, New York, and recovered photographs from a June 2021 Pride event in East Meadow, New York, two loaded shotguns, hundreds of rounds of ammunition, two stun guns, and a stamped envelope addressed to an LGBTQ+ affiliated attorney containing the remains of a dead bird. 

Fehring is being charged with criminal mischief and grand larceny as a hate crime in the Sayville case.

Robert Fehring, (right) with his attorney Glenn Obedin Tuesday
(Screenshot via News 12 New York)

In the Federal criminal complaint Fehring is accused of sending, according to the complaint, include one this year threatening to shoot a high-powered rifle at a Long Island Pride event in June; another warning a local Chamber of Commerce member that ambulances would be needed if the group allowed an L.G.B.T.Q. event to proceed; and a third describing a Brooklyn barbershop as a “perfect target for a bombing.”

Since at least 2013, Fehring had been sending individuals associated with the LGBTQ+ community letters in which he threatened violence, including threatening the use of firearms and explosives. 

In the criminal complaint and affidavit for arrest, federal prosecutors allege that one letter threatened that there would “be radio-cont[r]olled devices placed at numerous strategic places” at the 2021 New York City Pride March with “firepower” that would “make the 2016 Orlando Pulse Nightclub shooting look like a cakewalk,” referencing the 2016 attack in which 49 persons were killed and dozens wounded at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

If convicted, Fehring, whom media outlets in New York identified as a retired high school teacher, band director and track coach, faces up to five years in prison.

Court records show that he sued the Suffolk County police unsuccessfully after being taken into custody in 2010 after an off-duty officer saw him hide a shotgun under a raincoat and bring it into a Long Island office building, the New York Times reported.

Gay City News editor  Matt Tracy reported that Fehring appeared in court on December 6 before Magistrate Judge Steven I. Locke and was released on $100,000 bond. He is restricted to home detention with location monitoring, according to prosecutors. He is not allowed to have any firearms or “destructive devices,” is barred from contacting any of his alleged victims, and cannot go to the places he is said to have targeted.

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