|By Ching Ching Ni, Los Angeles
TimesMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
February 4, 2010 --The management company that runs a popular Hilton hotel in the heart of San Gabriel's Asian community agreed Wednesday to pay $500,000 to settle two lawsuits filed by former Latino workers alleging racial discrimination and sexual harassment.
When Landwin Management Inc. took over management of the hotel in 2005, some Latino banquet servers were fired and replaced with less qualified Chinese workers, according to attorneys at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which represented about two dozen former Hilton employees in the case.
"If you can show that the job required certain special skills that could only be filled by Chinese speakers, that would be a different matter," said Derek Li, the supervisory trial attorney for the EEOC. "The defendant did not raise language as an issue in the defense for not rehiring the workers."
But Stephen Ronk, a lawyer for Landwin, said the company was simply looking for a "leaner staffing model." He said the hotel's work force has always been diverse.
"This is an international hotel. It's not a Chinese hotel," Ronk said. "We don't make decisions to hire anyone based on their ethnicity."
The only reason Landwin agreed to settle, Ronk said, was to avoid expensive litigation costs that might lead to even more job losses.
The settlement included a sexual harassment lawsuit, also filed against the firm in 2007. Female employees in the housekeeping department alleged that they had been targets of verbal abuse by their supervisor and that Landwin ignored their complaints.
"There is no merit whatsoever to these claims," Ronk said.
The terms of the settlement also require Landwin to abide by a three-year consent decree that includes making policy changes such as setting hiring goals for Latino workers, anti-discrimination training for employees and the hiring of a consultant to monitor progress.
The Mediterranean-style Hilton opened in 2004 largely to cater to the area's growing Asian community. About half the local residents are Asian, and the majority of the hotel's clientele are tourists from China, Taiwan or Hong Kong.
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