With His Workers Facing Sexual Assault, This Bad Boss Stood Behind — the Harasser?
When William Fleischer needed a housekeeping manager for Vail Run Resort, a timeshare complex in the ritzy Colorado ski town, he hired Omar Quezada. Things quickly went downhill.
For a solid year, Mr. Quezada made life miserable for the cleaning staff of 15 Mexican immigrants. According to court documents, Mr. Quezada acted as a relentless sexual predator, exposing himself to women staff members, assaulting them, and demanding sex — then retaliating when they refused.
Mr. Quezada was arrested, prohibited from working at the resort, convicted by a local jury, and ordered to register as a sex offender — yet his boss Mr. Fleischer unaccountably supported him along the way, calling him a "good employee," giving him other work, and arranging for payment of some legal fees, according to a government complaint.
Mr. Fleischer even tried to block Mr. Quezada's victims from seeking justice: According to the complaint, he "stormed into" the Vail office of Catholic Charities, which was helping one of his housekeepers to file legal charges, and threatened to have the group's funding cut if its social worker didn't abandon the case.
Finally, Mr. Fleischer's managers fired most of the workers who had complained about Mr. Quezada.
William Fleischer is our new “Bad Boss of the Month.”
In 2015, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed a lawsuit against Vail Run Resort and Mr. Fleischer’s Global Hospitality Resorts, Inc. — the management company that employed Mr. Quezada and his victims — alleging a hostile work environment and illegal retaliation. Earlier this year, the defendants agreed to pay the abused workers more than $1 million.
According to the complaint, Mr. Quezada started harassing his cleaning crew almost as soon as he was hired at the 54-unit resort. He began with sexual jokes during breakfast and lunch breaks. But Mr. Quezada didn’t just talk dirty: He wore tight shorts to emphasize his endowment, shared explicit photos on his phone, and told female workers they could trade sex for promotion.
As time went on, according to the complaint, Mr. Quezada began cornering employees in rooms, removing his clothes, and asking for sex. In at least one case, he tried forcibly to undress a housekeeper.
Mr. Quezada also played cruelly on the Mexican workers' fear of immigration authorities: According to a complaint filed by four former employees, he liked to tell his crew that enforcement officials had arrived at Vail Run, at which point the frightened housekeepers would run and hide. He repeatedly told the Mexican employees that they had no rights, that they were ignorant, and that he could have them deported at any time.
One employee, Maribel Soto Perez, had been pregnant when Mr. Quezada started working at Vail Run. Not long after she suffered a miscarriage, she said, Mr. Quezada entered an elevator and began fondling her, telling her he would take away her depression. After Ms. Soto rejected him, he responded by exposing himself.
Ms. Soto and others reported Mr. Quezada’s behavior to Global Hospitality controller Alan McLean, who worked for Mr. Fleischer, but Mr. McLean replied that Mr. Quezada was doing "a fine job," according to the EEOC. Neither Mr. McLean nor Mr. Fleischer investigated the matter, the EEOC said — not even after Ms. Soto went to Vail police and an investigating officer told Mr. Fleischer of his "dismay" that Mr. Quezada remained a supervisor.
Vail Police arrested Mr. Quezada twice. After the second arrest, he received a restraining order that made it impossible for him to work at Vail Run, so he resigned. That same day, according to the EEOC complaint, Mr. Fleischer commiserated with Mr. Quezada, saying he was “likely set up” and that anything he may have done was “consensual.”
Meanwhile Mr. Fleischer kept Mr. Quezada on the payroll at his personal ranch in a nearby town — and he helped Mr. Quezada to hire an attorney who previously worked for him, arranging for payment of $1,700 in legal fees.
At the criminal trial, Mr. McLean, the controller, testified in favor of Mr. Quezada, showing photos to discredit Ms. Soto's story of the elevator assault. But the jury found Mr. Quezada guilty of unlawful sexual conduct and extortion — both felonies — and Mr. Quezada pled guilty to two further charges.
Alas, Mr. Quezada's removal from Vail Run didn't end the housekeepers' woes: Mr. Fleischer quickly hired a new manager, Maria Ledezma, to “clean house” — and at least six of the complaining employees were fired in the following months. Ms. Ledezma and Mr. McLean even called the Vail police to escort Ms. Soto and her husband, also an employee, off the premises after Ms. Soto refused to sign an agreement that prohibited her from talking about Mr. Quezada's actions, according to the EEOC.
When Ms. Soto filed state discrimination charges a few months later, Mr. Fleischer denied that she ever had been harassed and called her a “liar” and “bipolar.” The EEOC soon stepped in to support Ms. Soto and her co-workers, however, and Mr. Fleischer's companies opted to settle the resulting civil lawsuit rather than face a jury.
The consent decree in the case orders Mr. Fleischer's companies to pay $1.02 million to cover damages and attorney fees for eight "aggrieved individuals," including Ms. Soto and her husband. Mr. Fleischer and Mr. McLean each must undergo 12 hours of annual harassment and discrimination training — but Mr. Fleischer was removed from the case as a personal defendant, so that's about it.
Vail Run, meanwhile, need pay just a scant $20,000 of the overall settlement: The remaining $1 million will be paid by insurance.
The Employment Law Group® law firm was not involved in E.E.O.C. v. Vail Run Resort Community Association, Inc. We select "Bad Boss" cases to illustrate the continuing relevance of employee protection laws for our newsletter's audience, which includes attorneys and former TELG clients.