A lawsuit filed against the JW Marriott Le Merigot hotel alleges an employee was wrongfully terminated after she reported that spa employees had allegedly sexually assaulted guests.

Former Le Merigot spa manager Christina Mills said she repeatedly asked the hotel’s general manager Damien Hirsch to fire the staff members who allegedly sexually assaulted spa guests, but he ignored her and the employees then allegedly assaulted more guests. The Santa Monica Police Department investigated at least one incident, according to the lawsuit filed Sept. 19.

“(Hirsch) treated (Mills) as if she was hypersensitive and overreacting to claims of sexual assault because she was a female,” Mills’ attorney, Anthony Liberatore, wrote in the lawsuit. “(She) was told by supervisors not to speak to detectives that responded to the sexual attack.”

The JW Marriott Le Merigot is located on Ocean Avenue near the Santa Monica Pier. The hotel has recently come under fire from the hospitality union UNITE HERE Local 11 for refusing to recognize its housekeepers’ 2017 vote to join the union.

Mills was hired as spa manager in September 2016 and was quickly promoted to spa director. She received an award from the hotel in 2017 for turning the spa, which had been losing money, into a profitable enterprise.

Hirsch wrote that Mills had addressed the spa’s problems and optimized its productivity, according to the lawsuit.

“She was the absolute perfect fit for what needed to happen in this hotel,” he wrote.

Mills told Hirsch and other members of upper management that the spa’s hairstylists, nail technicians and massage therapists were allegedly illegally misclassified as independent contractors rather than employees.

Because the staff members were classified as contractors, they did not get full pay and benefits nor meal and rest breaks, according to the lawsuit.

Liberatore said he contacted several Santa Monica hotels about how they classified spa workers, including Loews, Shutters on the Beach and the Fairmont Miramar. All classified staff members as employees.

She also asked Hirsch for permission to fire spa employees whom guests said had inappropriately touched them. He refused to allow Mills to terminate them because he was afraid the employees would sue them for allegedly misclassifying them as independent contractors, according to the lawsuit.

In May 2018, after Mills had achieved the goals Hirsch set for the spa, she told him she planned to move to New York City. Hirsch asked her to stay for 12 months at a salary of $70,000, plus the ability to earn an additional $5,000 for her own spa appointments.

Despite the fact that Hirsch and Mills agreed to those terms, Mills was fired in November 2018. Liberatore said she was fired for reporting sexual assault and labor violations.

“Given the ongoing issues surrounding sexual abuse of guests by staff and (Mills’) continued reporting … of … misclassification, (the defendants), decided they should fire (Mills) to prevent her from being around to potentially speak with law enforcement,” Liberatore wrote in the lawsuit.

“(The defendants) also fired (Mills) because (she was) the ideal witness to be used against the hotel in the inevitable labor claim that was forthcoming from staff based on unlawfully treating them as independent contractors rather than employees,” he wrote.

Liberatore filed the lawsuit against Hirsch and Columbia Sussex, a hotel company that operates the JW Marriott Le Merigot. Mills seeks damages to cover lost past and future income and benefits in a sum to be determined at trial.

Columbia Sussex Corp. declined to comment on the lawsuit. Hirsch could not be reached for comment.

madeleine@smdp.com

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