Eight Mexican women and Vail Run Resort, a 54-unit timeshare minutes from the base of Vail Mountain Resort, reached on February 11 what is reportedly the largest sexual harassment settlement in Colorado history. The women inked the $1 million deal years after suffering daily abuse at the hands of housekeeping supervisor Omar Quezada, who was convicted of unlawful sexual contact and extortion in 2013 and no longer works at the resort.
The settlement “reflects the seriousness and magnitude of the problem facing oppressed employees in the playground of the ultra-wealthy that is Colorado’s Vail Valley,” Qusair Mohamedbhai, a lawyer whose firm assisted with the case, told the Denver Post.
Vail Run Resort declined to acknowledge wrongdoing in the settlement, but it did agree to hire a bilingual monitor for five years, publish the employee handbook in Spanish and English, and train managers in sexual harassment.
The resort also agreed to refrain from rehiring Quezada, which makes sense, given that the women were "very afraid of being left alone with him," as Maria Luisa Baltazar Benitez, one plaintiff in the case, said through an interpreter this Tuesday. He repeatedly groped them, was physically aggressive, demanded sexual favors in exchange for more hours or promotions, showed them graphic photographs, and told graphic stories at work. He once removed his clothing and attacked Baltazar Benitez while she was trying to clean a room.
“The trauma of going to work and seeing him there, it was awful,” Maribel Soto, another worker, said through an interpreter.
Quezada also verbally abused his employees, often using derogatory slurs or calling the women ignorant and uneducated. He threatened to fire or deport those who complained. A leader within the company reportedly advised the women that they could quit if they didn't like the abuse.
“I was afraid, but I knew this was not right and I had to do something," Baltazar Benitez told the Post.
So in 2012, Baltazar Benitez and Soto filed police reports against Quezada, who was arrested twice later that year on related charges and convicted by an Eagle County jury. Vail Run Resort paid his defense bills and hired a new manager who promptly fired both women as well as one of their husbands. Baltazar Benitez then filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Division, and subsequently the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the federal agency that enforces employment discrimination laws, filed a lawsuit on her and the other workers’ behalf.
"The behavior was really egregious," Mary Jo O’Neill, a regional attorney for the EEOC, told the Post. She also told Vail Daily that "it is increasingly important to protect these socially marginalized communities against discrimination, extortion, and exploitation."
Though at least two of the women are believed to be undocumented workers, the law is clear here. They are still "covered by federal employment discrimination statutes… it is as illegal for employers to discriminate against them as it is to discriminate against individuals authorized to work," Cari M. Dominguez, a former chair of the EEOC, wrote in 2002. The worker's immigration status is irrelevant to proving sexual harassment or any other violations of Title VII.
“I want to tell all the women in the workforce to come forward like I did,” Baltazar Benitez said. “Please don’t be afraid."
The abuse of immigrant women is "still a daily reality," an American Civil Liberties Union report reads. "Unscrupulous employers, armed with the knowledge that their female employees lack the power, resources, and awareness of their rights to hold them accountable for their actions take advantage of their employees without repercussion.” But in this case, some justice has been served.
“It’s not about the money but about the justice that needed to happen,” Baltazar Benitez said. “I’m going to keep working at my job as normal. There are things I won’t forget, but I have my dignity and justice. The guilty will pay.”