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This Bad Boss Failed to Act While a Disabled Employee Lost the Simple Tools Needed to Do His Job

After a 2014 medical accident left him a paraplegic, Daniel Callahan struggled hard to regain limited use of his legs.

When he succeeded, he needed just a few more things to resume his long career as a concierge at the San Francisco Marriott Marquis, he testified later in court: A decent desk and chair, for instance; a good padded mat so he could stand without much pain; and a break room that wasn’t too far from his work station.

And at first, Callahan told a San Francisco jury, he got most of those things.

But then the hotel started chipping away at his accommodations — and his manager, Scott Garlow, was “contemptuous” in the face of the concierge’s rising dismay, Callahan said in a legal complaint.

Manager Garlow told Callahan that he couldn’t stow his mobility scooter by the concierge desk, for example, forcing him to walk farther — and Garlow agreed that Callahan should stop eating lunch in a nearby storage room when HR accused the longtime employee of being a “security risk” for guests’ luggage, according to testimony.

Meanwhile Garlow gossiped publicly with staff about Callahan’s bodily functions, the concierge told jurors, and he made light of Callahan’s difficulty navigating his workspace.

Finally, during renovations, the hotel replaced Callahan’s desk and chair. No one consulted the disabled concierge and the new furniture made sitting far harder for Callahan, who by then had been diagnosed with a heart condition, jurors heard.

In September 2019, with the ill-suited desk still in place despite repeated pleas to Garlow and others, Callahan’s doctor advised him to stop working at the Marriott — and in a later deposition, testified that the hotel’s lack of accommodation had likely contributed to the concierge’s health crisis.

Scott Garlow is our Bad Boss of the Month.

After quitting, Callahan filed a complaint against the Marriott Marquis, claiming discrimination and a failure to follow the proper accommodation process. A state jury found in his favor last fall and awarded Callahan an eye-opening $20 million in damages; since then the case docket has shown no further litigation.

Manager Garlow never explained himself at the trial; Marriott declined to call him as a witness, and Callahan’s attorneys couldn’t locate him to demand his testimony.

Callahan’s hospitality career had launched along with the Marriott Marquis itself: As a fresh arrival in San Francisco, he had recently enrolled in a hotel management program when a Marriott representative showed up in 1989 to recruit staff for the newly constructed building on Mission Street, which boasted high-end amenities and sweeping views.

Callahan was hired as a banquet server even before the hotel’s official opening. Soon afterward, a spot opened up in the concierge department, which helps guests with advice, local reservations, and special arrangements.

“Right from the get-go, it was the perfect fit for me,” Callahan told the jury. “I felt like I had found a home.”

Callahan loved interacting with guests, he testified: He even spent his personal days helping Marriott to invent new services that could be offered to VIPs, which allowed the concierge department to be profitable for the first time.

He was nominated for multiple awards; served as a board member of the Northern California Concierge Association; and was accepted into Les Clefs d’Or — an international association he told the court is “the pinnacle of being a concierge.”

Throughout all of this, however, Callahan suffered from chronic back pain. He had surgery and later began to get regular epidural injections to manage the problem — until early 2014, when an injection went wrong and injured his spinal cord, paralyzing him from the waist down.

“I woke up as a paraplegic,” Callahan told the jury.

Callahan immediately set a goal, he testified: To regain enough mobility to return to work at the Marriott within a year. His doctors were skeptical, he said, and his young daughter — whom he used to take skiing and boogie boarding — compared him to a monster as he struggled to walk using leg braces and a walker.

The injury’s impact, he testified, had changed his life “like throwing a light switch, and my daughter was scared. I was scared. And that’s another reason it was just so important for me … not to give up. [T]hat’s something I wanted to make sure I showed to her.”

Callahan drew on his grit and returned to the hotel on schedule in January 2015. He doesn’t recall much about his first day back, but he strongly remembers arriving home in his Marriott uniform, just like he used to, and being greeted by his smiling daughter.

“She now had some hope,” he told jurors. “And so did I.”

Callahan had returned to the Marriott with a doctor’s note that explained his needs, most of which were easily met, he said in court.

The existing concierge desk and floor mat were adequate, he testified, and he could eat his lunch in a room behind the nearby bell desk. Though he had previously stood up to interact with most guests, he now needed to sit down more. It was painful and difficult to walk for any distance, and he needed a cane to do so.

Callahan’s electric mobility scooter, which allowed him to travel farther and faster, was a sticking point. Although there was a suitable space available beside the concierge desk, he testified, boss Garlow insisted that the scooter be parked in a storage area — “and that really defeat[ed] the purpose.” He opted not to use it.

Further problems arose. The room behind the bell desk, where Callahan had started eating his lunch, was often locked. At other times, there wasn’t any chair available in the room, or the chairs were stored away on shelves. Callahan wanted Marriott to designate at least one seat there for disabled employees — like Starbucks does for customers, he noted — and he would have liked a key to the room, but Garlow never offered a permanent solution, he testified.

Frustrated, Callahan suggested using a room that was farther away, a storage area for luggage that the bellmen also used for breaks. Walking to that room felt like “a marathon,” Callahan told the jury, but at least there was usually a chair available. Garlow initially agreed but later backtracked, Callahan testified, seeming to agree with an HR official who said that the concierge — by then a Marriott employee for more than a quarter-century — shouldn’t be trusted with guests’ belongings.

Callahan rebelled, continuing to use the room, and the dispute caused a string of tense meetings with Garlow and HR.

Other necessities started to disappear. The large padded mat at the concierge desk was thrown out, forcing Callahan to stand painfully on hard tile for months, despite complaints to Garlow, jurors heard. When some smaller mats finally arrived, Callahan lacked the core strength to wheel his chair across them, and the chair itself often sat at an angle. Callahan ended up standing more, and had to ice his feet at home afterward, he testified.

When Callahan complained to Garlow that the mats’ edges were curling — yet another hazard — the manager forcibly shoved the concierge onto a mat and laughed, Callahan told the court. “The mats are not that terrible,” Garlow told his disabled employee, according to Callahan.

There were other humiliations. A coworker laughed mockingly at Callahan when the concierge nearly lost his balance; Garlow was standing nearby and said nothing, Callahan testified. On a separate occasion, Garlow and an HR employee speculated aloud, within earshot of Callahan, about the concierge’s ability to urinate and have bowel movements, according to Callahan.

By Thanksgiving 2017, Callahan was so stressed that he spent most of the holiday in bed, unable to sleep and struggling to breathe easily. A few days later he went to the emergency room and was admitted to hospital.

“I learned that I was in the first stages of heart failure,” he testified.

Callahan took a leave of absence, but things were no better when he returned. Within a few months, the hotel began renovations — and the concierge station was temporarily moved up a floor, far from the room Callahan had previously used for lunch.

A break room on the temporary floor was very difficult to reach, Callahan testified, but Garlow’s only suggestion was to use the staff cafeteria three floors away. Callahan emailed both HR and hotel management multiple times, according to court documents, to no avail.

Even after it was finished, the renovation was a disaster for Callahan. A new concierge desk was so wide that he couldn’t reach across it, he testified — and it didn’t offer enough leg space for him to sit properly. The new chair, meanwhile, angled him forward, putting more weight on his weakened legs.

“Working at that workstation was like torture,” Callahan said at trial. “My coworker at one point said to me, ‘My back is really jacked up from this desk. I can’t imagine what’s happening to yours.'”

Callahan complained repeatedly to Garlow and emailed HR to ask about his needs; in response, he told jurors, HR replied that “no special accommodations” had been made for the disabled concierge — either at the desk or anywhere else in the hotel.

In September 2019, Callahan’s doctor told him he had to quit. The concierge’s work situation was aggravating his heart condition, the doctor later testified.

Reluctantly, Callahan complied. “I loved this job,” he said at trial. “The only time I felt like I wasn’t disabled was when I was working with guests.”

In its verdict, the jury found that at least one Marriott executive was “guilty of malice, fraud, or oppression” in the hotel’s illegal treatment of Callahan. Jurors awarded the concierge $5 million for his pain and suffering, past and future — and added a further $15 million to punish Marriott.

Callahan’s heart condition had worsened in the meantime, leading to surgery and an implanted device. Shortly before the trial, he told jurors, his doctors had informed him that he needed “another heart.”

He was just about to get on a transplant list, he testified.

» Read Callahan’s complaint

» Read an excerpt of Callahan’s trial testimony

The Employment Law Group® law firm was not involved in Callahan v. Marriott Marquis Hotel. 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.

Daniel Callahan was represented by the Law Offices of Susan Rubenstein; the deRubertis Law Firm; and the Law Offices of Patrice L. Goldman.

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