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Out NYC Hotel Owners Hit With Discrimination Lawsuit

Out NYC Hotel Owners Hit With Discrimination Lawsuit


Some employees of the hotel's restaurant claim they couldn't express their gender identity.

Out NYC Hotel owners Ian Reisner and Mati Weiderpass, still doing damage control after their ill-fated dinner with antigay presidential candidate Ted Cruz, recently received more bad news -- four former and current employees at the KTCHN restaurant and XL Nightclub, located within the Out NYC, are suing the establishment. The suit, alleging discrimination and withheld pay, is on behalf of specific plaintiffs and "all others similarly-situated."

The allegations by James Stress, Paul Shreve, Donald Shorter, and Jonathan Taylor are twofold. All four employees named in the suit claim KTCHN and XL failed to pay for overtime work and withheld part of their tips, resulting in violations of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act as well as New York City and state law. Shorter and Stress also allege discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity -- by establishments that are owned by and cater to LGBT people.

According to the suit, a copy of which was obtained by The Advocate, plaintiffs Shorter and Stress were subjected "to a hostile work environment" and "disparate treatment" that led "to their constructive discharge." Shorter and Stress, who worked as servers at KTCHN, claim they were the only two "men working at KTCHN who outwardly presented as feminine at work and who did not adhere to masculine stereotypes." The suit also notes that Shorter and Stress were "openly homosexual." The suit was filed in May in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York; the law firm of Borrelli and Associates is representing the plaintiffs.

The discrimination allegedly began when a KTCHN manager, Anton Washington, implemented a new policy on attire and grooming. This policy, a copy of which was made available to The Advocate, was introduced last December, attached to employees' checks.

"Attire/Grooming -- Please come to work properly dressed and be prepared to start your shift when you clock in. If you do not have proper attire i.e. black uniform shirt or black apron, they can be purchased in the office, BUT do not allow this to become a trend. Also, please keep excessive makeup and nail polish to a minimum gentlemen. The only acceptable time for gentlemen to wear makeup or nail polish will be for Sunday Brunch during Haus of Mimosa."

This policy was not extended to women, according to the suit. The suit alleges the workplace attire policy is "vile and explicitly unlawful," claiming it specifically targeted Shorter and Stress.

When Shorter "objected to this hateful policy, Defendants reprimanded and humiliated him and refused to alter the policy or make an exception," the suit states. Working under these conditions caused Shorter and Stress to suffer "severe mental anguish and emotional distress, including, but not limited to, depression, humiliation, embarrassment, stress and anxiety, loss of self-esteem and self-confidence, and emotional pain and suffering," according to the complaint.

The alleged discrimination could be a violation of New York City's Human Rights Law, which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender. As defined by the law, gender also includes "gender identity, self-image, appearance, behavior or expression, whether or not that gender identity, self-image, appearance, behavior or expression is different from that traditionally associated with the legal sex assigned to that person at birth."

In regard to the claim on withholding pay, the suit alleges the "Defendants operated various schemes to cheat its service employees out of their properly earned wages."

KTCHN required that servers pool their tips, and the restaurant disbursed them under a point system, at least for cash tips. Servers received 10 points, bus workers five, and food runners six points for every hour worked. But credit card tips were not distributed under the same system. According to the suit, "KTCHN's management unlawfully pooled and distributed the accumulated credit card tips from each shift to KTCHN wait staff solely at the discretion of the on-duty KTCHN manager."

The plaintiffs also claim they weren't paid overtime, or time and a half, when their work exceeded 40 hours a week.

The suit aims "to recover from Defendants unpaid minimum wage, overtime compensation, and liquidated damages" for all plaintiffs. Three of the four named plaintiffs no longer work at KTCHN; Shreve is still technically an employee but says he has not been scheduled for any work hours since filing the suit.

"As alleged in the Complaint in great detail, and as the evidence will demonstrate, KTCHN grossly violated several statutes meant to protect workers in New York City, and around the country, from employer abuse," said a statement released by Borrelli and Associates to The Advocate."Indeed, KTCHN cheated our clients out of minimum wage and overtime pay, effectively stealing their wages, and to top it off, treated them like second class citizens due to their sexual orientation and gender identities. That sort of conduct is simply unacceptable, and we look forward to presenting this case to a jury."

This suit comes on the heels of a slew of negative news for Reisner and Weiderpass, the owners of KTCHN and XL as well as 80 percent of the commercial properties on Fire Island. Last October, a young gay man was found dead in Ian Reisner's penthouse in a drug overdose. Most recently, they have been subjected to scrutiny over hosting an April dinner for anti-LGBT presidential hopeful Ted Cruz, leading some LGBT groups to cancel events at the Out NYC and call for a boycott of the hotel and the Fire Island properties. After the story of the dinner broke, Reisner called gay customers "cheap" and "entitled" in an interview with New York magazine. Reisner also recently admitted to making a donation to the Cruz campaign, despite previously denying any donation was made.

At the time of publication, KTCHN and XL management had not responded to several requests for comment. The New York Times reported Omar Sharif, Jr. would be acting as a community liason for Reisner and Weiderpass, though when contacted by The Advocate, Sharif said he's out of the country and is currently not working in any official capacity for the businessmen's New York City or Fire Island properties.

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