Just outside of Los Angeles in Ranchos Palos Verdes, the Terranea Resort boasts fine dining, a golf course, scenic beachfront views, and accommodations ranging from luxury guest rooms to private, secluded villas. While it may be a paradise for guests, resort workers claim they are subjected to a culture that has enabled sexual harassment and sexual assault.
The Terranea Resort, which has hosted conferences attended by luminaries including Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, first came under scrutiny for harboring sexual harassers in summer 2017, when a former dishwasher and chef assistant, Sandra Pezqueda, filed a sexual harassment and assault lawsuit against the resort and the staffing agency that employed her to work there.
In the lawsuit, Pezqueda claimed she experienced repeated sexual harassment and assault by her supervisor who retaliated against her rejections by changing her work schedule.
“After you speak up, they try to look for reasons to complain about your work to make you feel bad about your work, when, before you reported, you were never scolded,” Pezqueda said. “Terranea claims to be there to help you when you report, but what happens to women is they make fun of you when you report or, what’s easier, they lay you off.”
Pezqueda was honored as a silence breaker in Time Magazine’s Person of the Year 2017 issue as part of the #MeToo movement for her courage to speak out. In May 2018, she received a $250,000 settlement. Terranea Resort was cleared of any wrongdoing in the case.
The latest complaints come as fast-food workers and other low-paid employees have gone public with their struggles and cities, states and politicians including Senator Bernie Sanders are considering action to protect workers from harassment.
Jasmin Sanchez filed a lawsuit against Terranea Resort in September 2018. The lawsuit accuses Stephen Harrington, the resort’s loss prevention manager who conducted Terranea’s internal investigation into Pezqueda’s complaints, of sexual harassment and assault.
Included in the lawsuit is a text message Harrington sent to Sanchez in August 2016 after taking her cellphone number from a staff bulletin board. “My dick keeps getting hard thinking about it, I’m gona have to beat it off again in the ballroom restroom,” the text read after Harrington told her that he watched her on the security cameras as she worked. Sanchez reported the text messages to human resources, who she claims brushed them off. A few days later, Harrington cornered Sanchez in a room and sexually assaulted her for reporting him, according to the lawsuit.
“When it happened, it gave me panic attacks. I wasn’t able to go back to work. I just left, I couldn’t stay and didn’t want to go back,” Sanchez said. Harrington also repeatedly threatened to have her car towed after she initially reported the text messages, she claimed. “I chose to speak out because my mom is a hotel housekeeper who has been sexually harassed and also because working women like me deserve respect.”
Terranea declined to comment on Sanchez’s case, but noted Harrington resigned from his position at the resort in November 2016. “These are very serious allegations that do not reflect the values or culture of Terranea,” added a Terranea Resort spokesperson. “Since we opened our doors in 2009, Terranea Resort has remained true to our commitment to value the contributions of each associate, maintain positive workplace relationships and offer a rewarding professional experience.”
The supervisor whom Pezqueda accused of sexual harassment and assault reportedly harassed and assaulted other co-workers as well. Monica Sanchez (no relation to Jasmin), a former dishwasher who worked with Pezqueda, explained that a few months into her employment at Terranea in 2014, her supervisor began sexually harassing her.