About 25 people formed a picket line in front of the main entrance to the Willard InterContinental Hotel in downtown Washington on Monday to protest what they said was the hotel’s illegal firing of a gay assistant chef.
The protest took place less than a week after the Washington Blade reported that the D.C. Office of Human Rights found probable cause that the Willard allegedly forced Alberto Vega, 43, out of his job in August 2013 after he complained that he was repeatedly subjected to anti-gay harassment by co-workers and supervisors.
As guests entered and left the Willard and hotel employees looked on, the protesters chanted, “Shame to the Willard – stop discrimination” and “No harassment for gay workers.”
Ruby Corado, founder and executive director of the LGBT community center Casa Ruby, said she organized the protest in an effort to discourage anti-LGBT workplace discrimination in a city where such discrimination is clearly against the law.
Most of the protesters were from the LGBT Latino community. Some pointed to allegations in Vega’s discrimination complaint that co-workers hurled anti-gay slurs at him in Spanish and English.
“This is the beginning,” Corado shouted toward the hotel as the protesters paused across the street from the entrance. “We will protest in front of all your hotels in the city. We will not stand for discrimination.”
The Willard and its attorney have declined to comment on Vega’s pending discrimination case. A hotel spokesperson told the Blade in a statement that the Willard “condemns unlawful discrimination in all of its forms.”
Through its attorney the Willard filed a motion asking the Office of Human Rights to reconsider its probable cause finding. If the office reaffirms the findings following a review, the case will come before the D.C. Commission on Human Rights for a public hearing.
Vega and his attorney, Brian Markovitz, observed the protest but did not take part in the picketing.
“I feel so happy today,” Vega told the Washington Blade. “I was so happy seeing everybody fighting for something – helping me to fight.”