AP

APNewsBreak: Lawsuit claims Utah hotel exploited immigrants

Jun 26, 2019, 5:14 AM
hotel...
This Sunday, June 23, 2019, photo shows the Grand America Hotel, in Salt Lake City. A lawsuit filed Tuesday, accuses the luxury Grand America Hotel in Salt Lake City of luring workers from the Philippines to a program that promised training and cultural immersion but instead forced them to work long hours doing menial jobs for low pay. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
(AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A lawsuit filed Tuesday accuses the luxury Grand America Hotel in Salt Lake City of luring workers from the Philippines to a program that promised training and cultural immersion but instead forced them to work long hours doing menial jobs for low pay.

The hotel misused a type of visa similar to an internship program and instead treated participants like normal workers to avoid travel costs and other fees, according to the lawsuit filed by four workers represented by Asian Americans Advancing Justice and other organizations.

“This conduct is a blatant, greed-driven and illegal perversion of this country’s immigration laws,” David Seligman, executive director of Towards Justice, a Denver-based nonprofit law firm helping with the lawsuit, said in a news release.

Grand America officials didn’t immediately respond to an email and phone message seeking comment.

The Grand America Hotel opened a year before the 2002 Winter Olympics and is considered one of the most lavish in Utah. Past presidents have stayed in the hotel that often hosts major political gatherings and important conferences.

The hotel is the flagship of the Grand Hotel and Resorts company, which also owns four Little America hotels in Western states, according to the hotel’s website.

The J-1 visa program is intended to give foreign workers who can be scholars, teachers, camp counselors and au pairs training and experience in those fields in the United States.

The four plaintiffs — Jann Descanzo, Veronica Bondoc, Glen Segundino and Marianne Ponio — studied tourism in the Philippines and came to learn about the hospitality industry in the United States.

They each paid their travel costs and recruitment fees of more than $3,000 each, the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit claims the hotel didn’t make good on promises of providing supervised training about aspects of the American hospitality industry. They were supposed to get experience working in five different parts of the hotel, but were usually stuck in only a few.

The hotel forced the Filipino staffers to work up to 60 hours a week and do less desirable jobs than other employees, it alleges. Supervisors called them “slow” and “lazy,” and threatened with deportation when they complained about the hotel not following the internship plans, the lawsuit alleges.

They were promised the chance to go to a Dickens Christmas festival, a winter solstice festival, the zoo, and a dance festival as cultural experiences, but that didn’t happen.

Attorneys believe there are at least 100 workers who endured similar treatment in the program, which is why they are seeking to make it a class-action lawsuit.

The hotel should have been using a different immigrant work program, the H-2B visa, to bring in the workers, the attorneys argue. In that program, the hotel would have to cover travel costs.

They cited a 2011 Homeland Security investigation that found the Grand America Hotel was employing 133 workers without proper documentation to work in the United States. The hotel agreed to pay $2 million for the violations, according to a Department of Justice news release .

“Stymied in their attempts to use undocumented labor, defendants turned to non-immigrant visa programs, including the J-1 visa internship program, to import cheap foreign labor to operate the hotel,” the lawsuit says.

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.

Today’s Top Stories

AP

Microsoft is cutting 10,000 workers, almost 5% of its workforce, in response to "macroeconomic cond...
MATT O'BRIEN, Associated Press

Job cuts in tech sector spread, Microsoft lays off 10,000

Microsoft said in a regulatory filing Wednesday that had just notified employees of the layoffs, some of which begin immediately.
9 days ago
exxon mobil sign pictured...
SETH BORENSTEIN and CATHY BUSSEWITZ Associated Press

Study: Exxon Mobil accurately predicted warming since 1970s

Exxon said its understanding of climate change evolved over the years and that critics are misunderstanding its earlier research.
15 days ago
FILE - Protesters, supporters of Brazil's former President Jair Bolsonaro, stand on the roof of the...
The Associated Press

Brazil and Jan. 6 in US: Parallel attacks, but not identical

RIO DE JANIERO, Brazil — Enraged protesters broke into government buildings that are the very symbol of their country’s democracy. Driven by conspiracy theories about their candidate’s loss in the last election, they smashed windows, sifted through the desks of lawmakers and trashed the highest offices in the land in a rampage that lasted hours […]
17 days ago
President Joe Biden pictured...
ZEKE MILLER AP White House Correspondent

DOJ reviewing potentially classified docs at Biden center

Special counsel to the president Richard Sauber said “a small number of documents with classified markings” were discovered at the offices of the Penn Biden Center.
18 days ago
LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 06: A poster advertising the launch of Prince Harry's memoir "Spare" is s...
Jill Lawless Associated Press

Prince Harry says explosive book is a bid to ‘own my story’

Prince Harry defended his decision to publish a memoir that lays bare rifts inside Britain’s royal family.
18 days ago
utah capitol, a new bill heading to lawmakers will affect the utah sex offender registry...
HANNAH SCHOENBAUM Associated Press/Report for America

States target transgender health care in first bills of 2023

After a record flow of anti-transgender legislation last year, Republican state lawmakers this year are zeroing in on questions of bodily autonomy.
20 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Kid holding a cisco fish at winterfest...
Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

Get Ready for Fun at the 2023 Bear Lake Monster Winterfest

The Bear Lake Monster Winterfest is an annual weekend event jam-packed full of fun activities the whole family can enjoy. This year the event will be held from January 27-29 at the Utah Bear Lake State Park Marina and Sunrise Resort and Event Center in Garden City, Utah. 
happy friends with sparklers at christmas dinner...
Macey's

15 Easy Christmas Dinner Ideas

We’ve scoured the web for you and narrowed down a few of our favorite Christmas dinner ideas to make your planning easy. Choose from the dishes we’ve highlighted to plan your meal or start brainstorming your own meal plan a couple of weeks before to make sure you have time to shop and prepare.
Spicy Homemade Loaded Taters Tots...
Macey's

5 Game Day Snacks for the Whole Family (with recipes!)

Try these game day snacks to make watching football at home with your family feel like a special occasion. 
Happy joyful smiling casual satisfied woman learning and communicates in sign language online using...
Sorenson

The Best Tools for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Workplace Success

Here are some of the best resources to make your workplace work better for Deaf and hard-of-hearing employees.
Team supporters celebrating at a tailgate party...
Macey's

8 Delicious Tailgate Foods That Require Zero Prep Work

In a hurry? These 8 tailgate foods take zero prep work, so you can fuel up and get back to what matters most: getting hyped for your favorite
christmas decorations candles in glass jars with fir on a old wooden table...
Western Nut Company

12 Mason Jar Gift Ideas for the 12 Days of Christmas [with recipes!]

There are so many clever mason jar gift ideas to give something thoughtful to your neighbors or friends. Read our 12 ideas to make your own!
APNewsBreak: Lawsuit claims Utah hotel exploited immigrants