Mad Maids: Haitian Workers File Complaints Against South Beach Ritz

Inside the lobby of the Ritz-Carlton South Beach, businessmen sip mint-infused lime water next to a display of diamond rings. Four-foot-tall vases of wild orchids vie with the flat-screen TVs for attention, and the ocean crashes just yards from the entrance.

Behind the scenes, things are not as pretty. Haitian-born chambermaids at the hotel have filed at least three federal discrimination complaints in the past six months, claiming leaders of the housekeeping department refuse to work with anyone from the island.

Their contention: Bosses are so blatantly nationalist they make Pat Robertson's "Haiti's pact with the Devil" statement seem bland.

In the past six months, workers say, five maids -- all of Haitian descent -- were fired. They finger the director of housekeeping, who is Colombian, and a supervisor, who is Jamaican.

Olga Jean-Jacques is a five-year employee who claims she was canned without cause. "[The supervisor] told me Haitians are born from the behind, and Jamaicans come from the vagina." she says.

The 49-year-old immigrant began changing bed sheets and scrubbing toilets for the Ritz in 2005. With barely any English skills, she believed there were few other places she could get hired. She worked long hours and "was always loyal" to the company. She was given no reason for her termination this past July, she says.

Another maid in her late 40s, who asked not to be named, was let go soon after. "They don't want to work with us," she asserts in soft Kreyol.

Paul Cookley, director of marketing for the hotel, says the complaints are unfounded but declined to discuss the cases in detail. "We are aware of the charges of discrimination by certain former employees at our South Beach hotel... the Ritz-Carlton values diversity..."

(He noted the bosses in question "are not going to be commenting" on the allegations.)

The problem is among not just former employees. Explains a third Haitian cleaning lady: "I feel so hurt I want to cry... I don't think I can go back there."

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Natalie O'Neill
Contact: Natalie O'Neill