Black Restaurant Workers Sue Trump Organization for Racial Discrimination

By Sameer Rao Sep 21, 2017

President Donald Trump’s eponymous company faces a lawsuit for alleged racist discrimination toward Black restaurant employees. 

Dominique Hill, Irving Smith Jr. and JaNette Sturdivant told The Washington Post yesterday (September 20) that they experienced racist comments, unexplained shift-switching and more while working at the BLT Prime Restaurant in Trump International Hotel in Washington D.C. The three restaurant workers, who are Black, named the Trump Organization and hotel managing director Mickael Damelincourt as plaintiffs in the civil suit they filed yesterday with the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.

The luxury hotel and restaurant opened several weeks before Trump won the 2016 presidential election. While Trump no longer runs the hotel’s parent corporation, his son Donald Trump Jr. stepped into his shoes after the elder Donald placed the company in a trust that he can access unfettered.

Hill told The Post that he was the first bartender hired prior to the property’s opening, but only given daytime shifts instead of higher-traffic nighttime ones that guarantee more tips. He earned $300 to $400 during 30- to 35-hour work weeks before being fired for accidentally dropping a drink on an infant during a weekend brunch.

"I kept saying, ‘Why am I being terminated? Why can’t I be suspended or transferred?’" he said, adding that a White colleague who spilled champagne down a bride’s dress was not let go. "My feeling was Mickael, who was right there, was letting me go from the company.”

Smith, who still works at BLT Prime as a server, says lucrative shifts went to newer White and Latinx employees. "They started hiring all these people and instead of putting them on day shifts they was giving them night shifts and keeping us on day shift," he explained. "Next thing I know, within the month, all the Black people were on the day shift." 

Smith also described various instances of racist treatment by colleagues and restaurant guests that went unaddressed by management. In one example from after the election, a White coworker apparently told him, "This is White America time, you need to get used to it, and if you don’t get used to it, you should go work somewhere else." He also said that he witnessed two situations where guests requested non-Black servers without being removed, and detailed a staff memo about handling ostrich eggs that included a photo of an ostrich chasing a Black man. 

Sturdivant mentioned a manager complimenting her on her so-called "Milano complexion." She quit her server position after a month of not receiving prime shifts. 

Unlike Sturdivant, Hill and Smith were hired via a third-party company instead of the hotel. That company, ESquared Hospitality, told The Post that "BLT Prime would have immediately taken the alleged complaints seriously and investigated them to the fullest extent" had Hill and Smith filed a complaint "through any of the proper channels." The Post notes that Hill disclosed documents showing that he filed a discrimination charge with the D.C. Office of Human Rights and underwent mediation with ESquared attorneys. 

Trump Organization spokesperson Amanda Miller dismissed the allegations and denies responsibility for the employees. "This lawsuit appears to be nothing more than a desperate, politically-motivated publicity stunt," she told The Post. "We look forward to litigating this matter."