Two former Santa Clara Hyatt Regency workers filed a complaint against the hotel with a federal employment agency Friday claiming that management fired them after they objected to photos of their faces pasted atop bikini-clad cartoon images on a company bulletin board.
The workers, Lorena Reyes, 50, of San Jose, and Martha Reyes, 48, of Milpitas, filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against the Santa Clara Hyatt Regency where the sisters worked in the housekeeping department for six years until they were fired in mid-October.
The complaint follows a discord that sparked between the sisters and Hyatt management during "Housekeeping Appreciation Week" in September during which Lorena Reyes, who has worked for the Hyatt for 24 years, and Martha Reyes, who has six years experience at the company, were both being honored.
The Reyes sisters claim someone posted photos of their faces atop bikini-clad cartoon images on a bulletin board in a hallway in the housekeeping department that is accessible only to employees.
"When I saw the photos I was very shocked. I was very embarrassed and angry," said Lorena Reyes. "What they did was unjust, displaying our bodies in that manner."
Martha Reyes said the images of her and her sister upset her so much she reacted by tearing them down. Neither woman talked to management about having issues with the photos.
Two weeks later, they were fired and the hotel claimed it was because "they were taking too much time on their lunch break," said their attorney Adam Zapala.
"Employees regularly take additional time for their breaks to make up for morning breaks that they skip. It raised questions about whether this firing was about what the hotel said it was about," Zapala said.
Peter Hillan, a spokesman for Hyatt, said the photos of the Reyes sisters were part of a collage of about 75 photos of the housekeeping staff that was on display for a week. The theme, he said, was "riding the waves to success."
"Everybody was enthusiastic about what we were celebrating. Many folks even wanted to take their images home," he said.
Moreover, Hillan said Friday was the first time hotel management had become aware of any issues related to the images.
"One thing we want to make clear is that the two were dismissed for a clear violation of workplace polices and procedures unrelated to the claims around the images," Hillan said.
He claimed the larger issue is that UNITE HERE, the union that represents the sisters, is "using falsehoods and extortions as they try and grow their membership at non-union hotels," such as the Santa Clara Hyatt Regency.
"What they are claiming isn't true and they're using such a claim that they were dismissed as a way to besmirch the Hyatt name in this broader campaign," Hillan said.
Zapala said his clients are not seeking monetary damages, but that they just want their jobs back with back pay. But, if necessary, he said they would file a lawsuit against the hotel.
"It's a story that I think a jury will respond very favorably to," he said. "But, we hope we don't go that far."
Hillan said the hotel would look into the complaint and examine the circumstances behind the images.
Friday morning, the sisters were joined by dozens of supporters at a demonstration in front of the Santa Clara Hyatt Regency.
Bay City News contributed to this report.