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Pressure increases on Tennessee hotelier who 'dared' fired gay man to sue

by Nick Cargo

The battle against Tarun Surti, owner of the ARTE' Hotel in Brentwood, Tennessee, is intensifying. More workers have come forward with discrimination complaints in the wake of two recent firings of openly gay staff members. At least two have retained legal counsel.

On January 8, WSMV-TV reported that David Hill, the hotel's former director of human resources, had been terminated and "dared" to sue. His supervisor, assistant general manager Leonard Stoddard, told him that Surti ordered the firing specifically because he didn't want gays in leadership roles at his establishment. Surti's cultural background was a homophobic one, Stoddard explained to WSMV.

Mr. Hill has since filed complaints with the EEOC and Department of Labor, but has little hope, given that both Surti and his hotel are bankrupt. On finding out that Stoddard talked to the press, he too was let go via e-mail.

Since WSMV aired its original story on David Hill, more workers have come forward alleging discrimination and retaliation based on gender, sexual orientation, and national origin. "We were spoken down to," former food and beverage manager Freda McAllister said. I guess in [the owner's] particular culture, women are second, so that was obvious from the treatment we got over there."

"[We were told] we 'didn't know how to run businesses,' and we should do things more like they do in India," added Tamara Head, former controller.

Former front office manager Timothy Horne said that he was treated badly partly because of his young age and also because he was gay, a charge echoed by former hotel supervisor Sergeo Lleneza.

"These are unhappy employees making allegations," Mr. Surti charged. "They are not true. They are totally unfounded and untrue...I have a lot of people working for me that are women, different religions and different backgrounds. I do not discriminate against people."

Workers in Tennessee are not protected by anti-discrimination laws on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. "This points to the need for us to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act," Tennessee Equality Project president Christopher Sanders said, "because in many places our community is not protected...There are very talented employees who are being singled out because they're gay. These employees are very brave for fighting back."

The accompanying video report was broadcast on WSMV-TV on January 13, 2009:


Originally published on Wednesday January 14, 2009.

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