Dozens of workers and community members held a protest at the JW Marriott Santa Monica Le Merigot on Wednesday to call on the company to reinstate a worker who tested positive for COVID-19.

To support a coworker who was recently fired shortly after testing positive for COVID-19, dozens of employees and community members gathered Wednesday for a protest at the local Marriott hotel.

With signs in hand and masks over mouths, the group called on the company to reinstate Margarita Santos, who worked at the hotel as a housekeeper for nearly a decade before being fired less than a week after testing positive for COVID-19.

Santos said in an interview Thursday the company justified her dismissal by claiming she failed to notify management about her symptoms but the former employee said her superiors knew about the headaches she was experiencing. Marriott officials said they had no comment on the matter Thursday, but a letter signed by General Manager Damien Hirsch that was sent to Santos confirms she was terminated from her position at the Le Merigot JW Marriott hotel on Friday, July 31.

Less than a month prior, Santos was recalled from her temporary furlough to work, the termination letter states in the beginning. Upon her return to the hotel, she went through COVID-19 safety and prevention training with Ingrid Sandoval, the hotel’s Director of Housekeeping.

As a Spanish speaker, Santos said she did not understand the English-only training initiatives. Still, she was happy to return to work and remembers everything being fine until Saturday, July 18, when she went into work at 2 p.m. as usual. Later that day, around 6 p.m., she said she reported to her manager that she had come down with a severe headache.

“She gave me two pills from her wallet,” Santos said, sharing she didn’t know what they were but they alleviated her headache.

With Sunday and Monday being her day off, Santos said she returned to work Tuesday feeling better.

“And then that Wednesday I went into work. And then when I started feeling ill,” Santos said, a manager asked if she had already clocked in.

Santos said, “‘Yes but if you want, I can clock out and go home.’ But the manager said, ‘No, go clean the bathroom, get to work. I’m going to go call and talk to HR,” according to Santos.

While in the middle of cleaning the restrooms, Santos said she was told to go see HR, who said they had decided to send her home.

“They didn’t do a temperature test, and another thing they said was to tell the people who did the test that she had been in contact with a guest who had COVID-19,” said Maria Hernandez, who works with UNITE HERE Local 11, a union that represents housekeeping workers at the hotel. They said she’d get an expedited test result, “so they told her to lie.”

Santos said she went and got tested and received a positive result on Saturday, July 25.

“She called the supervisor and nobody answered,” or returned her many voicemails, Hernandez said. The silence from her employers would continue until Friday, July 31, when she got the letter stating she had been terminated.

“On Wednesday, July 22, 2020, after you clocked in and received your first work assignment and reminders about following COVID-19 safety precautions and protocols,” the letter states, “(Santos) walked away, hesitated, came back and informed Ingrid and Housekeeping Supervisor Maira Ceron that you had a fever.”

The letter states Santos had also said she had been ill for three days before and she worked the previous day with a high fever.

“Additional symptoms you mentioned having were a cough, a headache, and burning eyes,” the letter states, concluding: “By coming to work on July 21 and July 22, knowing the symptoms you had and in willful violation of our COVID-19 safety and prevention policies and protocols, you knowingly put our guests and your coworkers at considerable risk of being infected with COVID-19. Your egregious behavior and conscious disregard for the safety and health of others is completely unacceptable. For these reasons, we are terminating your employment with Le Merigot JW Marriot Hotel effective July 31, 2020.”

Santos said she believes the action is unfair because she did share that she wasn’t feeling well, and Hernandez said Unite Here agrees.

“The union filed an (Unfair Labor Practice form) because it could’ve been retaliation against her activism in 2019 when she contributed to a successful campaign to win a ‘housekeeping bill of rights,’” Hernandez said.

Santos said it feels good to know her peers are supporting her and she hopes their efforts don’t go unnoticed. She added she hasn’t heard from Marriott officials outside of the termination letter but believes she isn’t asking for too much.

“I want my job back,” Santos said.

Brennon@smdp.com