NJ files complaint against Rockaway Hilton Hotel alleging unequal pay for woman

ROCKAWAY TOWNSHIP, NJ (Morris County) – Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino and the Division on Civil Rights announced Friday that the State has filed a Superior Court complaint against a Hilton Homewood Suites hotel alleging that the hotel unlawfully discriminated by paying male employees more than a female employee for the same work.

Submitted for filing in Superior Court in Bergen County, the complaint alleges that a Hilton Homewood Suites in Edgewater not only engaged in unlawful discrimination by paying the female worker less per hour than her male co-workers who did the same jobs, but by firing her after she expressed concern about receiving disparate pay.

The complaint filed Friday contains three counts against Rockaway Hotel LLC trading as Homewood Suites by Hilton: one count of gender discrimination and two counts of engaging in unlawful reprisal against a worker engaged in protected activity.

“The allegations in this case are troubling, and suggest that the ownership and management of this hotel are caught in a time warp,” said Attorney General Porrino. “Employers have a duty under the law to treat male and female workers equally, and that most assuredly includes hourly wages. Here in the 21st Century, the notion of any employer – let alone one that is part of a national hotel chain – paying women less than men for the identical work is appalling, and cannot be allowed to stand.”

“In New Jersey, an employee cannot be fired for complaining in good faith that she is being discriminated against based on gender. Nor can an employee be fired for asking other employees about their salaries or benefits if the purpose is to explore the possibility that compensation discrimination is taking place,” said Division Director Craig T. Sashihara. “This case touches on two fundamental values – equal pay for equal work and pay transparency. Gender-based wage disparities are indefensible, but will thrive if employees are forced to work under a gag rule.”

The complaint alleges that Homewood Suites hired employee Rosa Lopez in August 2011 to work in its housekeeping department at a starting wage of $8 per hour, and subsequently hired six male employees following Lopez’ employment – including Lopez’ son – to do the same housekeeping work at a starting wage of $9-$10 per hour.

At the time several of these men were hired, Lopez continued to earn $8 per hour. In August 2012 – a year after her hire – she was given a 20-cent raise. In addition, the State’s complaint alleges that Lopez was offered an opportunity in June 2013 to work in the hotel’s transportation section and become a part-time driver of the Homewood Suites courtesy shuttle at a rate of $10 per hour. Under the hotel’s system of assigning personnel, courtesy shuttle drivers are scheduled to work in shifts and, when not needed to run the shuttle, are deployed to work in other hotel sections such as housekeeping.

A Division on Civil Rights investigation showed that Lopez, when not driving the shuttle, was typically assigned to work in housekeeping. As a driver, Lopez was paid the established driver rate of $10 per hour, but when not driving and assigned elsewhere, she was paid the lower hourly wage of $8.20 (the same wage she’d earned previously, when assigned exclusively to housekeeping.) At the same time, Lopez’ two fellow courtesy shuttle drivers – both men – were paid the higher, $10 per hour driver’s rate regardless of whether they were driving the shuttle or working in another capacity, such as housekeeping.

According to the State’s complaint, Lopez approached her supervisor, as well as the hotel’s general manager, about the disparity. In separate conversations with both, Lopez said she thought it was unfair that her male co-workers received $10 per hour whether they drove the shuttle or not, while she received $10 per hour only when she drove, and otherwise received a lower wage of $8.20 per hour.

Despite her expressed concerns about the disparity, nothing changed for Lopez. In September 2014, Lopez raised the issue with the Homewood Suites owner, Minesh Patel. Specifically, she told the owner she was being paid less than her male co-workers for performing the same duties. He purportedly said he’d look into the situation and get back to her. Subsequently, Lopez was called into the general manager’s office. According to the State’s complaint, the general manager handed Lopez a letter terminating her employment and also rebuked Lopez for complaining directly to the owner about unequal pay. Lopez then contacted the Division on Civil Rights.

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By: Jay Edwards
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