Federal agency targets Vail hotel | VailDaily.com

Federal agency targets Vail hotel

VAIL — A woman in the country illegally is suing her former employer, and a federal agency is helping her do it.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is suing Vail Run Community Resort Association, Inc., and its management company Global Hospitality Resorts in federal court.

The suit specifically names Global Hospitality’s controller Alan McLean and owner William Fleischer. They did not return repeated phone calls from the Vail Daily requesting comment.

Civil action

The civil case follows a criminal action in which Vail Run’s housekeeping manager, Omar Quezada, was convicted of sexually harassing two women on his staff. They accused him of demanding sex from them, and threatening to turn them in to Immigration and Customs Enforcement if they refused.

A jury convicted him of criminal extortion and unlawful sexual contact.

The woman, Maria Luisa Baltazar Benitez, could now be eligible for a U.S. visa, which gives victims of certain crimes temporary legal status and work eligibility in the United States for up to four years.

Criminal case

During the criminal trial, testimony revealed that there was no video footage from Vail Run’s security system, and there were no other witnesses. Quezada’s accusers didn’t come forward for more than a year after they say the harassment began.

When they did, they were met with hostility by Vail Run’s management, the EEOC lawsuit said. Both women were later fired.

Eventually they went to the Vail police, who investigated and charged Quezada.

A jury convicted Quezada in 2013. Baltazar filed her EEOC complaint that same year. The EEOC’s lawsuit was filed this summer.

“Immigrant workers are particularly vulnerable,” said Mary Jo O’Neill, EEOC regional attorney. “They have less information about their rights and about how to enforce them, and are often times linguistically and socially marginalized.”

Illegal is irrelevant

Iris Halpern, the EEOC attorney handling the case, said the agency is required to get involved, and the plaintiffs’ immigration status doesn’t matter.

“It makes no difference to the EEOC if they’re in the country illegally,” Halpern said.

“When someone brings a civil case, in this case a sexual harassment case, it is a requirement that you file a charge with the Colorado Civil Rights Division and the EEOC.”

You can’t file your private lawsuit until you do this, Halpern said.

These women did not have attorneys at the time. Catholic Charities helped them file the civil charges, Halpern said.

According to the EEOC suit, Fleischer stormed into Megan Bonta’s office, a Catholic Charities representative who helped Baltazar file her civil suit.

“Fleischer threatened to have Catholic Charities’ funding cut if Bonta did not stop helping with the case,” the lawsuit said.

“The EEOC is empowered to do an investigation for everyone who is aggrieved. It’s unique because the criminal prosecution has made available much more testimony and discovery,” Halpern said.

When people are “linguistically disadvantaged,” they tend to be more vulnerable, Halpern said.

“Immigrant populations can be particularly vulnerable. If you exploit undocumented workers, it creates a spiral to the bottom,” Halpern said.

The EEOC also alleges that the defendants retaliated against men and women who complained about the harassment to management.

Unlike the criminal action, the EEOC’s civil suit lists a long litany of complaints from several Vail Run employees.

The lawsuit asks for a jury trial and punitive damages. It will all be adjudicated in federal court in Denver.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and rwyrick@vaildaily.com.