DENVER – Mexican workers at a luxury condo association in Vail say a manager sexually harassed and threatened them for months before they finally mustered the courage to inform higher-ups at the timeshare in the wealthy ski resort town. But instead of addressing the problem, a leader at the resort company took no action against the manager, told the workers they could quit if they didn't like it, and allowed the abuse to worsen, the workers said.
"The trauma of going to work and seeing him there, it was awful," said one of the workers, Maribel Soto, through an interpreter. "He was actually giving us more and more work."
Soto and Maria Luisa Baltazar Benitez spoke to reporters Tuesday after they and six other immigrant workers reached a $1 million settlement with Vail Run Resort and its management company stemming from the allegations of sexual harassment and discrimination at the 54-unit timeshare.
Representatives from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said the payout, which will be split among eight workers who brought the suit, was the largest sexual harassment settlement in Colorado history.
The case gives a glimpse into the kind of mistreatment commonly faced by immigrants living in the country illegally, especially those working in hospitality industry, where their plight often goes unnoticed, said attorney Qusair Mohamedbhai, whose firm assisted in the case.
Attorneys for Vail Run Resort and its management company, Global Hospitality Resorts, did not immediately return calls for comment Tuesday. The company did not acknowledge wrongdoing in the settlement. But it agreed to hire a bilingual monitor for five years to keep in regular contact with workers and ensure the settlement is enforced. It also agreed to publish its employment handbook in English and Spanish and to train managers about employment laws and sexual harassment, among other stipulations.
"These people got it so wrong they needed a lot of slapping upside the head to get it right," said Mary O'Neill, regional attorney for the Phoenix office of the EEOC, which encompasses Colorado.
The workers suffered constant sexual harassment by housekeeping supervisor Omar Quezada, who was hired in August 2011, according to the lawsuit, filed last July. Quezada told the workers they would have to do sexual favors or have sex with him in exchange for more hours or promotions, showed them graphic cellphone photos, became physically aggressive with them and once stripped and attacked a housekeeper who was cleaning a room, the lawsuit said. He threatened to fire those who complained, cut their hours or have them deported.
In the months after the meeting with the resort's comptroller in early 2012, Soto and Baltazar Benitez each filed police reports against Quezada. He was arrested in June 2012, for violating a restraining order prohibiting him from working directly with Soto, and again that August, in connection with the harassment. He was convicted of unlawful sexual contact and extortion in the first case, and pleaded guilty to similar charges in the second, all while the resort paid his defense bills, the lawsuit said.
Quezada did not return a call for comment.
The resort then hired a new manager and fired the women who went to police.
On Tuesday, they both encouraged others working in the hospitality industry to report abuse, even if they are living in the country illegally.
"I want to tell all the women in the workforce to come forward like I did," Baltazar Benitez said, through an interpreter. "Please don't be afraid."