Attorney Javier Espinoza explains the discrimination lawsuit filed by the EEOC at a press conference in September 2018 as plaintiffs stand behind him. Credit: Jackie Wang / San Antonio Report

The former owners of La Cantera Resort and Spa have agreed to pay more than $2.6 million to settle a discrimination lawsuit.

The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) brought the suit against the resort in September 2018 on behalf of 24 current and former employees who claimed that resort management forbade employees from speaking in Spanish.

DH San Antonio Management, which was part of the Denver-based Destination Hotels company and formerly operated La Cantera Resort and Spa and the EEOC, in conjunction with the Espinoza Law Firm, PLLC, reached the settlement on Oct. 28 and U.S. District Judge Jason Pulliam signed the settlement agreement on Oct. 30.

“I’m proud of our clients for having the courage to stand up to their employer when they feared for their jobs, their reputation in the industry, and their livelihood,” lead trial attorney Javier Espinoza said in a statement. “Theirs was not an easy decision, and this was not an easy case. I’m satisfied that the outcome will serve as a deterrent to other employers in this city, this state, and hopefully
the nation.”

DH San Antonio Management has 45 days from the date of the signed agreement to pay the $2.6 million; the distribution will be determined by the EEOC and the Espinoza Law Firm. The terms of the settlement also require the resort to adopt a policy prohibiting discrimination if one was not already in place, adopt a process for complaints “that is designed to encourage employees to come forward with complaints regarding violations” to the non-discrimination policy, provide in-person non-discrimination training to all current employees, and restrict resort management from providing other employers anything other than what positions defendants held at the resort and when they worked there.

According to the complaint, plaintiffs said they were retaliated against after complaining about the English-only policy. Retaliation included verbal warnings, documented, “write-ups,” demotions and, in some cases, termination. According to the complaint, one of the managers allegedly referred to Spanish as “a foul language.” 

John Spomer, the resort’s vice president and managing director, previously denied “any claims related to unwritten policies that allegedly existed three or four years ago” when the lawsuit was first filed. He said La Cantera Resort and Spa remains committed to embracing the “diverse culture of the San Antonio community.”

According to the settlement, resort management denied all allegations in the EEOC complaint.

La Cantera Resort and Spa management also is required to keep a written record of all complaints of national origin harassment, discrimination, and retaliation for two years following the signing of the settlement document.

The hotel and resort is no longer listed on the Destination Hotels website. The resort is now operated by Benchmark Resorts & Hotels, which is based in The Woodlands and also operates the Hotel Contessa downtown.

Sergio Vitela, one of the plaintiffs, worked at La Cantera Resort and Spa for 12 years. He told the Rivard Report last year that he was fired after speaking Spanish on the job; he and his father both were working at the resort at the time.

“My father, he speaks Spanish, and they were telling me not to talk to my dad in Spanish, and I can’t [not speak Spanish] – it’s my father,” Vitela said last September. “That’s when I started seeing the first signs of them not liking our culture and race, really. They were telling us not to speak any Spanish.”

Spomer said in a statement last week the allegations go back five years and cited a single department at the resort.

“Several employees, who are among the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, remain employed at the resort, in that same department,” he said. “We do not tolerate discrimination, harassment, or retaliation in any form and are proud to employ a diverse, multicultural workforce with ethnic minorities being the majority of our staff.”

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Jackie Wang

Jackie Wang is the local government reporter at the San Antonio Report.