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'Time Warp' Edgewater Hotel Paid Men More Than Woman, State Charges

Hilton Homewood Suites, Edgewater.
Hilton Homewood Suites, Edgewater. Photo Credit: COURTESY: Hilton Homewood Suites

EDGEWATER, N.J. -- An Edgewater hotel paid male employees more than a female employee for the same work -- then fired her after she complained about it, state authorities charged Friday.

Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino called the allegations against the Hilton Homewood Suites hotel "troubling" and said they "suggest that the ownership and management of this hotel are caught in a time warp,”

“Employers have a duty under the law to treat male and female workers equally, and that most assuredly includes hourly wages," Porrino said. "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.”

Porrino;s office and the state Division on Civil Rights filed the complaint Friday in Hackensack, accusing Rockaway Hotel LLC -- trading as Homewood Suites by Hilton -- of one count of gender discrimination and two counts of engaging in unlawful reprisal against a worker engaged in protected activity.

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.

It later hired six male employees – including Lopez’s son -- to do the same housekeeping work at a starting wage of $9-$10 per hour, it says.

At the time several of the men were hired, Lopez continued to earn $8 per hour, the complaint says.

A year into the job, she received a 20-cent raise, the complaint says.

Lopez was offered a job in June 2013 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, Porrino said.

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, he said.

A Division on Civil Rights investigation showed that Lopez, when not driving the shuttle, was typically assigned to work in housekeeping, the attorney general said.

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 as when she was assigned exclusively to housekeeping), the complaint filed Friday alleges.

At the same time, it says, Lopez’s 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.

The complaint says she told each of them separately that the system was unfair.

Nothing changed, however, it says.

In September 2014, Lopez raised the issue with the Homewood Suites owner, Minesh Patel, the complaint says. He said he’d look into the situation and get back to her, it adds.

Soon after, the general manager called her in and handed her a letter terminating Lopez's employment -- while criticizing her for complaining to the owner.

“In New Jersey, an employee cannot be fired for complaining in good faith that she is being discriminated against based on gender," Division Director Craig T. Sashihara said. "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,

"Gender-based wage disparities are indefensible but will thrive if employees are forced to work under a gag rule,” Sashihara added.

Deputy Attorney General Farng-Yi Foo and Investigator Juliana Noriega are handling the case.

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