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July 24, 2019 at 2:16 pm PDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Hyatt hotel near Palm Springs accused of ‘unlawfully’ firing gay chef
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

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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