NYC hotel used pandemic to terminate older workers, says lawsuit

REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger
  • Hotel cited 'temporary' layoffs but never recalled older workers, says housekeeper
  • Employers facing increasing number of bias lawsuits tied to pandemic

(Reuters) - A boutique hotel in Manhattan has been hit with a proposed class action accusing it of using a temporary closure triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic to terminate older, experienced employees and replace them with younger, lower-paid workers.

Darci Fernandez Penaloza, a 64-year-old former housekeeper at the Kimberly Hotel, filed a complaint in Manhattan federal court on Tuesday, claiming she and up to 40 other employees, most of whom were older than 40, were never called back to work when the hotel reopened in March.

Instead, the hotel began hiring younger maids, porters and doormen, presumably paying them less than terminated workers such as Penaloza, who had worked at the Kimberly for about 25 years, according to the complaint. Penaloza is represented by Hach Rose Schirripa & Cheverie.

The hotel did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The lawsuit is the latest in a wave of discrimination complaints against employers tied to the pandemic. The trend has accelerated in recent months, with 66 complaints filed in June and July out of at least 242 lodged since May 2020, according to management-side law firm Hunton Andrew Kurth.

The midtown Manhattan hotel, which has about 200 rooms and suites, initially laid off its staff in March 2020 at the outset of the pandemic, Penaloza said. Workers were told in April that the layoffs would be temporary.

The hotel reopened in September, and in November, Penaloza received a letter informing her she would not be recalled, she said. The letter cited travel restrictions and lower hotel occupancy levels as the reason for her termination.

The Kimberly shut down again in December and reopened in March, and has remained open since that time, according to the complaint.

Penaloza accused the hotel of violating the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act, which prohibits discrimination against workers 40 and older, and comparable New York state and city laws.

She is seeking to represent a class of all hotel employees who were fired and subsequently had their vacated positions filled by younger workers.

The case is Penaloza v. Kimberly Hotel Inc, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, No. 1:21-cv-06557.

For Penaloza: Frank Schirripa of Hach Rose Schirripa & Cheverie

For the hotel: Not immediately available

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Thomson Reuters

Dan Wiessner (@danwiessner) reports on labor and employment and immigration law, including litigation and policy making. He can be reached at daniel.wiessner@thomsonreuters.com.