Martha and Lorena Reyes had worked at the Hyatt Hotel in Santa Clara, CA for a combined total of over 30 years. But after they complained about "humiliating" photos posted of them, they were both fired. Now they're taking action.
I spoke to Lorena Reyes through a translator yesterday — she told me that after working at the hotel for 24 years, since before Hyatt even owned the hotel, she never expected to be fired "for an unfair reason." But that's what she alleges happened. She says that in September, she saw pictures of herself (left) and her sister Martha (who had worked at the hotel for 7 years) posted in a common area as part of "Housekeeping Appreciaton Week." She says the photos were "extremely humiliating and shameful for me," adding that she has never worn a bikini, even at home. Her sister tore the photos down. Later, the coworker who had posted them, in the presence of a manager, insisted that she put them back up. She refused.
On Oct. 12, hotel managers told both Reyes sisters they were being investigated for violations of break policy. Two days later, they were fired. Management accused them of "stealing company time" by taking overly long breaks, but Lorena says, "that was a lie." She says employees don't always have time to take their mandated breaks during the day, so they sometimes take extra time at lunch. UniteHere, the union representing the sisters, has no knowledge of any other employees cited for such behavior before. Adam Zapala, an attorney representing the sisters, says, "We've interviewed a number of employees at the Hyatt and most of them confirm that taking additional time to make up for a missed break is commonplace. None of these employees said that anyone else had been terminated for doing so." Lorena Reyes is clear about why she believes she was fired: "I think it's because of the pictures."
UniteHere will be leading a protest today at the hotel, and the sisters will file a retaliation charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Zapala outlines what he and they hope for:
What I'd like is for the Hyatt to come to its senses and do what is absolutely the right thing in this case, and that is to immediately reinstate two terrific employees, Martha and Lorena, employees who had sterling work records, who've worked at the property for a long period of time, and who were considered good employees by the company. That's the cheap way to resolve this case. The expensive way is to continue assert this pretextual reason for firing them, and assuming that they don't reinstate my clients, we really look forward to telling this story to a jury.
Depending on the hotel's response today, they may get that opportunity.