Hotel Henry staff suing owners, claim wage theft and harassment

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB)–Time Magazine once named Hotel Henry one of the “World’s Greatest Places,” and the workers we talked to said suing the owners was one of the last things they ever wanted to do. But they had to end the abuse for themselves and those who will follow.

The 88-room Hotel Henry is the centerpiece of the historic Richard Olmsted Campus, formerly the Buffalo Psychiatric Center, and is considered one of the top boutique hotels in the country.
But workers say behind the scenes it is a different story.

“Their culture is to constantly short hand employees, they constantly cut corners, that is both from the customer and employee perspective,” said Gabriel Burgos Nieves, a former employee.

“Behind closed doors, we were dealing with a lot of racism, a lot of homophobia, transphobia, said Ahshanaye Riley a Team Leader.

Ahshanaye Riley and Gabriel Burgos Nieves are among the 5 plaintiffs accusing management of harassment, forcing them to work without pay, withholding tips. For group events, they say the invoices include gratuities–assumed to be tips for the staff.

“When in fact no portion of that 20 percent charge goes to servers. One hundred percent of it is kept by the hotel,” said their attorney Ian Hayes.

And when customers ask to make sure the staff is rewarded, Riley says they would “lie to their face, essentially, ‘Oh yes I will make sure that each server sees this.”

The COVID pandemic has led to wholesale staff cutbacks, but workers claim, hotel management has on occasion forced them to work without pay. Gabriel told us about a call from one of the owners.

“The business is trying to make money again. So, there is no pay, however, I know you are just sitting on your ass collecting unemployment. I can make one phone call to the state and you would lose your unemployment,” he said.

Late this afternoon, an attorney for Hotel Henry issued a written statement saying the following:

This boils down to a disagreement over business operations. Hotel Henry’s owners and management believe a positive working environment is the key to customer satisfaction. If coworkers feel supported and satisfied, and if management remains available and committed to hearing and addressing employee concerns, every aspect of the business will benefit. Even in the most positive workplace environment, though, there will be disagreements and different interpretations of facts—and Hotel Henry’s management remains committed to hearing and resolving all such disagreements in good faith.

That being said, my clients reject the claims in this lawsuit, its mischaracterizations of their workplace environment, and denies the allegations in the Complaint. My client looks forward to vigorously defending these allegations and telling its side of the story in court.   

Al Vaughters is an award-winning investigative reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 1994. See more of his work here.

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