The D.C. Office of Human Rights has determined that a case in which it made a preliminary finding that the Willard Intercontinental Hotel illegally forced a gay assistant chef out of his job could not be settled between the two parties and will be certified for a trial-like public hearing.
In an April 20 letter, OHR Director Monica Palacio told the attorney representing assistant chef Alberto Vega that efforts to reach a settlement in the case through a conciliation process had failed.
“The matter is therefore being certified to the Commission on Human Rights for a public hearing,” Palacio said in her letter. “The Commission will inform all parties of the date and time of the hearing.”
Vega charges in a discrimination complaint filed with the OHR last year that Willard officials allegedly forced him out of his job after he complained that he was repeatedly subjected to anti-gay harassment and taunts by co-workers and supervisors.
A 15-page Letter of Determination of Probable Cause issued by the OHR on Dec. 17 says Vega, 43, establishes a “prima facie case” that he was subjected to a hostile work environment because of his sexual orientation and was “constructively discharged” from his job in August 2013.
The Willard has declined to comment on Vega’s complaint, saying it never discusses ongoing litigation. But it released a statement to the Washington Blade in January saying it “condemns unlawful discrimination in all forms” and has a policy of holding the “safety, comfort and well-being of our customers and employees as our top priority.”
Under the D.C. Human Rights Act, the Commission on Human Rights is authorized to make a final decision on whether discrimination occurred and what, if any, penalty should be handed down to the party found to have engaged in discrimination.
The Commission reaches its decision on such cases after it conducts an evidentiary hearing open to the public that includes testimony by witnesses.