A former waitress has alleged that she was a victim of sexual harassment at the Princess Hotel, which is denying the claim and has signalled its intention to move to the court for damages over the harm being caused to its reputation.
The young woman, 18, has said that she was sexually harassed by a man she was told was the establishment’s owner. And, she told reporters at a news conference on Monday, while she made a report to the police and sought advice at the chambers of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), she was told there is not enough evidence to substantiate her claims.
However, attorneys Sase Gunraj and Ramona Vansluytman-Sukull, speaking on the behalf of the Princess Hotel yesterday, said that the hotel is not owned by one specific individual. They said the hotel is owned by a local company, Georgetown Investment and Manage-ment Services Inc. (GIMS Inc.), which has foreign shareholders and that the man being referred to by the young woman is not the hotel’s owner but rather a shareholder.
Gunraj also said that the young woman has not positively identified anyone by name and so the hotel was not going to provide any additional information on the identity of the person accused at this point in time.
The young woman was accompanied by her older sister and father as she addressed members of the media at the Pegasus Hotel on Monday. She went public with the allegations via the Kaieteur News a few weeks ago, but her father explained on Monday that he has since kept her out of the public eye to protect her from embarrassment.
The man also said that he made the decision because he was confident that the police would have taken adequate measures to give his daughter justice by now.
The man, who asked that he and his family’s identities remain undisclosed, said that his decision to once again step into the public light is a consequence of the police’s poor handling of the case.
Despite the young woman’s report, her relatives say that the police are yet to even question members of the hotel’s management and the woman’s father believes this is a result of the influence the managers wield. “Remember these people are people with real bread and connections,” he said.
However, the hotel, in a press release, stated that it has so far fully cooperated with ranks of the Guyana Police Force who were detailed to conduct an investigation into the alleged incident. Gunraj said that the hotel has made available for interrogation by the said ranks all the employees, including managers, who were on duty on the said day as well as provided video footage from closed circuit cameras installed on its property.
Police ranks have not made any request for further information since, according to Gunraj. The hotel did, however, acknowledge that police ranks have not made a request to interview the accused in this matter. It added that the accused, who was referred to as the “principal,” does not live in Guyana but visits Guyana sporadically for very short periods to conduct business. It was further stated that police ranks are well aware of this fact. The accused, according to the hotel’s attorneys, has not left the country since.
Meanwhile, the young woman and her family said a staff member at the DPP’s office explained to the young woman the definition of sexual assault, reportedly telling her that the court would not accept her case because there was insufficient evidence to support the accusation. The man said his daughter was told “him touching her breast is not fondling.” He said his daughter was told that if the man had, among other things, caressed her or rubbed her legs in a certain way, then it would have qualified.
In a brief statement, the DPP’s chambers said an officer who spoke with the young woman did not tell her not to go to the court.
The young woman claims that she was sexually harassed on January 11th, 2014.
She says that the assault began as she was carrying out her waitressing duties in the hotel’s casino, where the man touched one of her breasts. She said that while she almost immediately jumped back, the man subsequently leaned into her to kiss her. She quickly pulled herself from him, she said, and evaded the advance.
Although she was put off by the advances, the young woman said that she went back to carrying out her duties.
However, later that same day, she says that she was approached by one of the hotel’s managers and told that she had to look after the man specially. The woman said that as she and the manager rode an elevator to the hotel’s fifth floor, she was advised to do whatever the man required, and that she would be compensated with money for her compliance. She also says the manager told her that if her services took her past her working hours, the hotel would organise a taxi for her to get home.
However, Vansluytman-Sukull said that the young woman was employed as a room service attendant/ waitress with the hotel. “She would have been informed of her duties when she was being trained and thus she would have known that working at the hotel as a room service attendant, would entail her visiting the rooms of guests to the hotel to perform her regular duties pertaining to the job,” she said.
Gunraj added that he was puzzled why assisting the guest with his needs would mean anything other than hotel duties to the young woman.
The woman added that before she was taken into the elevator she explained to the manager that they were outside of the casino, which is the place where she is required to function. The manager, though, just told her to relax, and she says that as they travelled up in the elevator the man asked for her age.
Once on the fifth floor, she said that she was taken to a room door and told to wait. At this point, the manager who brought her to the room is said to have left her and returned with another manager, both of whom went into the room, leaving her alone yet again. She said that a few minutes later, one of the managers exited the room, touched her by her shoulder, and brought her into the room. She said when she entered the room the other manager and the man accused of the harassment were speaking in a foreign language. Both managers, the girl alleges, eventually left her alone with the owner. She said that the door was locked from the outside by one of the exiting managers.
Once alone, the man reportedly asked the girl to make sure that the door was locked, and then instructed her to move closer to him. Instead of complying, she said that she told him that she wanted to use the toilet.
She said that as she was on her way to the toilet she met up with the manager who brought her upstairs, and he asked where she was going. After explaining to him that she was headed to the washroom, the young woman says that the manager said that he would escort her. The woman said that once she got to the bottom floor, she rushed to the bar in tears, and was asked by her manager what was wrong. After explaining what transpired she said that she left the hotel. She has since resigned from the hotel. The young woman went home and related her experience to her parents, who then took her to the police station to make a report.
The hotel said that it has a strict policy on sexual harassment of its employees and has never received such complaints from any of its employees.
The woman’s father says that the Monday following the alleged incident he received a call from one of the hotel’s managers, who inquired if his daughter was interested in coming back to work. He said that the man who contacted him told him that neither he nor the General Manager (GM) was at work when the incident occurred but that he would keep in contact with the GM and stay in touch with the family.
The woman’s father also said that the manager told him that he was embarrassed by the situation, and asked him if there was anything that could be done to contain the situation. A few days later, the man said they he received a call from the police, who explained that he needed to go back to the Hotel as an investigation of the claim was being carried out. He said that he was met at the hotel by a team of investigators and a superintendent. The police are said to have taken statements from the man’s daughter and some of her colleagues. The man said that the investigation also included looking at security camera footage of what transpired on the 11th.
The man said that none of the footage he saw showed the girl being touched on her breast, or the hotel’s alleged owner leaning in to kiss her. The footage did confirm though, that she was taken to an elevator by a manager, and was joined by another manager once they got to a door on the fifth floor.
The woman’s father says he was told that nothing in the footage proves his daughter’s claim of sexual harassment but he disagrees. The man says that his daughter, a waitress, was told that she was required to provide services for the alleged owner of the establishment, even though she was without a waiting platter or any beverage for the entire period. He also said that the fact that she was taken to a room and told to do “whatever the boss wants” is suspicious. “I saw two men taking the child to a room with her two long hands,” the man exclaimed. He also said, “I do not see the reason for you to be locking a waitress in a room.”
The man said that he feels “ugly” knowing that his youngest daughter has been violated and nothing is being done by the local authorities to address the situation. He said that he is particularly worried since the man involved in his daughter’s sexual harassment is not Guyanese and can decide to leave at any time.
The young woman told reporters that she hopes her coming forward will bring her some kind of justice, and that she was disappointed by the slow movement of the police.
Gunraj said that at no point in time or in any manner has the hotel or anyone on its behalf, made any offer/s, inducements or any other approaches to the young woman for any settlement or for her to withdraw her allegations made against the accused.