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Gaming Guru

Sam Skolnik
 

Federal Suit Targets Golden Nugget

4 October 2006

Downtown Las Vegas' largest and most upscale hotel, the Golden Nugget, has for years discriminated against some of its black and female employees by subjecting them to a hostile work environment, the federal government is claiming in a lawsuit.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission suit, and an EEOC official in Los Angeles, allege that the employees - mostly blackjack and other pit game dealers - had been forced to listen to racist and sexually suggestive comments from patrons, pit bosses and other floor staff, and were punished when they complained about it.

One black dealer was told he was too sensitive after overhearing racist remarks, and another objected after hearing a casino pit manager say that "all blacks look alike," said Santos Albarran, a program analyst for the EEOC's Los Angeles district office.

Further, Albarran said, one black female dealer said she was told by a floor supervisor that he wanted to perform a sex act to her - and nothing happened to the supervisor after she complained.

"The employers did not do anything to stop this behavior," Albarran said.

In fact, according to the suit, filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas, the employees who reported such activities were warned against doing so and, in at least one case, suspended from work.

The suit claims that a hostile work environment had been fostered at the hotel since September 2002, "including intimidation, threats of physical force and racial epithets" against its black employees. Female employees also endured sexual advances and abusive comments, the EEOC suit claims.

After speaking with the hotel's legal counsel, Golden Nugget spokeswoman Sylke Neal-Finnegan said the company's policy was not to comment on pending litigation.

Though the complaint was filed on behalf of an unknown number of black and female employees, only one man, Robert Royal, is mentioned by name.

It is not clear whether Royal still works at the Golden Nugget, as he could not be reached for comment. Neal-Finnegan said that company policy prohibits her from releasing any personnel information.

The suit claims that Royal initially filed the charge with the EEOC, alleging that the hotel violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination based on a person's race, color, religion, sex or national origin.

According to Albarran, the EEOC tried for two years to reach an out-of-court settlement. The agency sent a July 29, 2004, letter to Golden Nugget officials requesting a conciliation conference, he said, but efforts failed. Three weeks ago, a hotel representative called an EEOC attorney to tell her that all settlement talks were off, said Albarran, so the agency decided to proceed with the suit.

The suit requests, among other things, that the hotel implement policies providing equal opportunities for black and female employees, and that the hotel provide Royal and other similarly situated employees with back pay and any other losses to which they are entitled.

None of the Golden Nugget employees who agreed to chat briefly Tuesday inside the casino - including two black males and one white female - said he or she had experienced on-the-job discrimination. They asked not to be identified, and none was a dealer.

"I've been treated fairly," said one of the men, who said he was a longtime employee. He said he had not witnessed the kind of behavior alleged in the EEOC suit.

The Golden Nugget has long been the flagship of Fremont Street hotel-casinos, and is currently undergoing major renovations and upgrades, including a new pool complex and hotel tower. The hotel has 1,907 rooms and 38,000 square feet of casino space, said Neal-Finnegan.

Texas-based Landry's Restaurants Inc. bought the Golden Nugget properties here and in Laughlin last year from businessmen Tim Poster and Tom Breitling. They, in turn, had purchased the property from MGM in 2004.