Columbia Sussex Settles EEOC Sex Discrimination and Retaliation Suit

HOUSTON — Columbia Sussex Corporation, which owns and operates hotel properties across the United States, has agreed to settle a sex discrimination and retaliation suit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today. The settlement resolves the charge of a former banquet manager, Richard Knight, who claimed that Columbia Sussex fired him from its Sheraton Hotel in Baton Rouge, La., because of his sex, male, and because he complained that a female co-worker was not disciplined for the same purported infraction.

According to the EEOC’s suit, Columbia Sussex terminated Knight because he complained about the general manager’s better treatment of Knight’s female co-worker during a meeting. In that meeting, the general manager ultimately demanded that Knight go into his office without the presence of a human resource representative, but did not force Knight’s female co-worker to proceed without a representative. When Knight asked the general manager whether he was granting privileges to the female manager that he would not grant to Knight, the general manager replied that he could do whatever he wanted and then he immediately terminated Knight. The female manager was not disciplined.

Sex discrimination and retaliation for complaining about it violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC filed suit (No. 07-701 in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement.

In settlement of the case, Columbia Sussex agreed to pay compensation to Knight for losses he sustained, and to rehire him at one of its hotel properties. Columbia Sussex entered into a three-year consent decree, agreeing to annual training of personnel regarding sex discrimination and retaliation. Columbia Sussex also agreed not to rehire the official who had terminated Knight.

Knight commented on the settlement, “I am very grateful that the EEOC brought this case on my behalf. I love the hotel industry. My main goal was always to get my job back. I am excited to get back to work with Columbia Sussex in my chosen field.”

Jim Sacher, the EEOC’s regional attorney for the Houston District, which encompasses EEOC litigation in Louisiana, said, “This is a constructive outcome for the EEOC, Mr. Knight and for current and future employees of Columbia Sussex. The EEOC takes all claims of sex discrimination very seriously, including those where the victim is a man. The Commission also closely scrutinizes retaliation claims, because they fundamentally impact our ability to enforce the law, encourage a fair workplace and seek relief for victims.”

According to company information, Columbia Sussex, a privately held corporation, has approximately 70 hotels across the United States, the Caribbean and Canada, operating under brands such as Marriott, Hilton, Westin and Sheraton.

The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about EEOC is available on its web site at .