News for the Hospitality Executive
|By Jay Weaver, The Miami Herald
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Jun. 22--A former black chauffeur who drove a vintage Rolls Royce with the vanity license plate "Miss Daisey" at The Breakers is suing the posh Palm Beach resort for alleged racial discrimination that led to his firing last year.
Clarence Eads, 63, claims in a suit filed Wednesday in West Palm Beach federal court that he was subjected to hostile racial epithets by an executive of Flagler System Inc., the owner of the landmark resort. He is seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages from The Breakers, which denied the allegations Thursday.
Eads alleges that Nadine House, senior vice president of Flagler System, hired him as her personal chauffeur and frequently referred to him as "f---ing nigger" during his 15 years of employment.
House promised to pay him about $650 a week when she hired him in October 1985, according to the suit, but paid him about that half amount at first. He was classified as a "doorman" and was paid about $10,000 less a year than the dozen white drivers at the hotel and condominium complex, the suit alleges.
When Eads took his complaint to the chief executive officer at Flagler System and later to the human resources department, House allegedly told him, "You're one dead nigger."
Miami attorney Kendall Coffey, who is representing Eads, said House's alleged abuse of Eads was startling in the post-Civil Rights era.
"Discrimination continues today, but normally it's more subtle and insidious," Coffey said. "The striking feature of this case is the blatant racist attitudes that harken back to a bygone era when people wore racism on their sleeve. It's almost a throwback to the plantation mentality."
The Breakers, built in 1926 by the heirs of Standard Oil partner Henry M. Flagler, said in a statement that the exclusive resort is "committed to providing a workplace free from discrimination in any form.
"Mr. Eads' employment was terminated for non-discriminatory reasons and therefore we plan to vigorously defend ourselves against this lawsuit."
Kiersten Murnane, the resort's director of corporate communications, declined to comment further.
Eads' suit, assigned to U.S. District Judge Shelby Highsmith in Miami, claims House lured him away from his longtime job as a produce manager at Pantry Pride, where he made $625 per week. She initially paid him $300 weekly, the suit states. When he was fired last August, he was making $595 per week.
The suit claims that Eads was on duty 24 hours a day at the Breakers Row condominium to drive House and her guests. Among them: actress Joan Collins, CNN founder Ted Turner, former U.S. Sen. Paula Hawkins and billionaire John Kluge.
Eads said that after years of alleged racial epithets, foul language and the final death threat by House, he filed a complaint with the West Palm Beach Police Department.
"Afterwards, several employees told Eads that Ms. House had forbidden him from ever setting foot again on Breakers property," the suit said. "If he did, Mr. Eads was told, he would be arrested on the spot."
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