Photo by Debra DiPaolo
It came as a surprise to celebrity hotelier Ian Schrager when the federal government slapped his Mondrian Hotel with discrimination charges for replacing nine workers, including eight minorities, with “high-energy, upbeat, handsome/pretty” people selected by Hollywood talent agencies.
According to a Mondrian spokesperson, “We’re baffled by these allegations . . . We take pride in the fact that 55 percent of our current employees are minorities.”
OffBeat thought this dispute deserved a closer look. So we decided to spend Saturday evening at the Philippe Starck– designed compound. Arriving early, we had our car parked by stocky brown men in white jump suits. Our drinks were served by well-etched women wrapped in silk sarongs.
The lawsuit, filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleges that the hotel’s hiring practice, based on “purely subjective criteria,” discriminates against potential minority employees. From what we could tell, it’s not that the Mondrian staff lacks minorities, it’s that hotel jobs are almost entirely race-segregated. It’s simple, really: car parked by brown worker, customer greeted by white; drink delivered by white, glass picked up by brown. Maybe this is what the Mondrian people mean on their Web site when they describe the hotel’s ambiance as “uncomplicated sophistication.” Or perhaps they’re referring to the James Turrell light installations, the televisions flickering through holes in the walls, the mysterious glowing-orange mirror used by two women to adjust their matching leopard-skin tube tops. The minorities in the crowd probably topped off at 1 in 30; the Mondrian is not accused of discriminating against customers.
After rummaging through the Mondrian experience, we understood Schra -ger’s confusion. The Mondrian is selling the Hollywood image, and his hotel clientele and staff reflect what we too often see on the silver screen: a sea of white faces with a few dark faces serving them. Whether the Mondrian’s employment practices are legal is an open question. The EEOC backed out of a four-year battle with the Hooters restaurant chain over its subjective hiring criteria: well-endowed gals. And while the Mondrian lawsuit may seem long overdue to some Hollywood watchers, the first Hooters in L.A. County is scheduled to open later this month on Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade.
More Belmont Buffoonery
Even as the school district reeled from news that an overdue toxic cleanup may add millions to the price of the half-completed Belmont Learning Complex, officials this week forged ahead to obtain the city permit they were supposed to get before they began building the $200 million Taj Mahal of high schools.
Confused? This theater of the absurd began back in 1993 when the city planning commission considered the district’s proposal to buy a 24-acre site near downtown Los Angeles to build a new Belmont high school. The commission okayed the development with the proviso that school officials get a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) before breaking ground. The school district agreed. But with the now familiar shuffle, wink and nod that has marked the Belmont boondoggle, the district did not file for the permit until March 1998, months after its foot-dragging was exposed by the Los Angeles Daily News, and long after construction began.
With building well underway, the Planning Commission finally okayed the permit application last July. But an appeal filed by David Koff, senior researcher for longtime Belmont project critic Local 11 of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union, kicked the issue to the City Council’s planning committee. On Tuesday, the committee delayed a decision for up to 6 months.
The silliest part of the whole deal is that school-district officials, under state law, could have exempted themselves from the permit requirement. Instead, they chose to pay lip service to the city’s authority while sidestepping their obligations. It makes you wonder: Was anything about the Belmont project on the up-and-up?
Save the Children
Over in 90210 land, a grassroots group has qualified a ballot initiative that would require furriers to tag their pelts with gruesome details about animal killings. The initiative organizers — who, with the tin ear characteristic of such organizations, call themselves Beverly Hills Consumers for Informed Choices, or BHCIC — would have fur buyers know that the dead animals on their backs may have been electrocuted, clubbed, gassed, stomped or caught in a steel-jaw leghold trap before giving up their pelts. The first of its kind in the nation, the initiative drive was supported by more people than voted for the current Beverly Hills mayor, according to BHCIC spokesman Luke Montgomery.
Now all this stir got us wondering: What about a tag campaign to tell consumers that their clothing may have been produced by child labor, or in sweatshops? We put the question first to Montgomery, who gave it a big thumbs down: “There are a million different problems in the world many of us would agree with,” said the former Washington, D.C., AIDS activist turned celebrity interviewer. “We’re focusing on this because it’s a hometown problem.”
Apparently, Los Angeles sweatshops are too far afield to attract BHCIC supporters’ concern. Wayne Pacelle, senior vice president of the Humane Society of the United States, also nixed a sweatshop tag crusade. “The Humane Society has a mission directly related to animal protection,” Pacelle said. “It would probably be illegal for us to start popping off on every issue under the sun.”
For the rest of us who value the lives of workers and children at least as much as those of minks or foxes: Check out Web sites such as www.sweatshopwatch.org, with information on garment workers’ conditions. And buy your conscience.