Former HR director sues Godfrey Hotel Detroit, alleging discrimination – Detroit Free Press

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After being fired in less than a year at a hotel in Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood, the former human resources director is suing the company for discrimination and retaliation.

Tom Guajardo, a 50-year-old Hispanic American with more than more than 30 years in the human resources industry, was hired in March 2023 as the HR director of the Godfrey Hotel in Detroit, which opened last year. He was terminated in February 2024 after opposing discriminatory practices in the workplace, according to the lawsuit.

“Employees need to know they are safe to oppose discriminatory practices in the workplace. They need to know that if they oppose those practices internally or through state and federal agencies … they will not be retaliated against,” Guajardo’s lawyer, Adam Akeel, told the Free Press in a statement. “If not even HR personnel, particularly the director of HR, is safe to oppose discrimination in the workplace, then what type of message is that sending to employees?”

The Godfrey Hotel in Detroit’s Corktown photographed on Monday, June 26, 2023.

The Godfrey Hotel in Detroit, which is part of Oxford Hotels & Resorts LLC, dubs itself as a “luxury lifestyle” boutique hotel in Corktown. Guajardo was responsible for ensuring compliance with statutory requirements, along with providing guidance and counseling for employees, including General Manager Aaron Black, according to the lawsuit.

However, things took a turn when Guajardo was informed of discriminatory remarks made by Black, and when he witnessed the general manager engaging in “overly discriminatory hiring practices,” preferring to hire less qualified Caucasian males, according to the lawsuit.

Lawsuit alleges a series of discriminatory remarks

Black “insisted on having the final say of all candidates at the hotel,” according to the complaint. Black rejected candidates for matters outside of their experience and would base his hiring off “physical appearance and would not approve of anyone that had a disability, physical or cognitive.”

“When I would question Mr. Black on these matters, his response was always, ‘Tom, I am the general manager, and I will do whatever I want to do,'” according to the lawsuit.

On one occasion, an employee told Black of the person’s desire to have more female employees, to which Black responded: “Why would I want to hire more women? Then I’ll have to hire more Blacks and Mexicans too,” according to the lawsuit.

In another instance, Guajardo objected to a remark by another employee, who said he knew Spanish because he “worked with a bunch of Mexicans” and proceeded to gesture riding a donkey while uttering “offensive words in Spanish,” but Black disregarded his concerns.

Guajardo later alleged Black was engaging in discriminatory pay practices. Guajardo was promised a $105,000 salary, $21,000 quarterly incentive, plus the potential to receive monthly bonuses. In January, he realized four employees, including himself, did not receive their quarterly incentive. After raising the concern, Black provided “fictitious” and baseless excuses, according to the lawsuit.

‘Secret incentive payments’

He informed Black that all four of them who were excluded are members of legally protected classes and were given no negative feedback on their performances, and warned him that such conduct falls within the definition of discrimination through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and U.S. Department of Civil Rights.

Guajardo learned Black offered “secret incentive payments” to some of the four of the excluded employees. Guajardo wasn’t one of them. He sought further clarity as to why they were originally deprived of their incentives and told Black he intended to file complaints with the agencies if they didn’t come up with a resolution.

Days later, Black suspended Guajardo and initiated a “baseless investigation” into the former HR director. Following the investigation, Black instituted a “vindictive, retaliatory and baseless fishing expedition” in an attempt to justify terminating Guajardo, according to the lawsuit. Guajardo on Feb. 15, in a meeting with Black plus a witness, said he filed discrimination complaints and viewed the investigation as retaliation for his opposition to Black’s “discriminatory employment practices.”

Guajardo sent lengthy correspondence to company leadership regarding his concerns over “discriminatory and retaliatory practices.” The following day, he was terminated.

Messages were left for the Godfrey Hotels and the Detroit hotel location, without response.

“The Legislature enacted anti-retaliation provisions in the civil rights statutes to protect employees, to let them know they are safe to voice concerns of unethical and illegal employment practices. It is important for employees to know that if they are retaliated against for opposing discrimination, and they pursue the proper legal channels, their employers will be held accountable and they will be compensated for their bravery,” Akeel said.

Dana Afana is the Detroit city hall reporter for the Free Press. Contact: [email protected]. Follow her: @DanaAfana.

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