Trump, companies accused of mistreating women in at least 20 lawsuits

One woman sued Donald Trump’s Miami resort saying she lost her job because she got pregnant.

Two others claimed they were fired after complaining that co-workers sexually harassed them.

And a number of women testified in a lawsuit that Trump himself repeatedly instructed managers to hire younger, prettier workers at his Los Angeles golf club.

The release of a video Friday showing Trump’s sexist remarks in 2005 has created a firestorm of controversy that threatens to derail his campaign. But an ongoing USA TODAY investigation of Trump’s 4,000-plus lawsuits shows that he and his companies have been accused for years of mistreating women. Allegations outlined in at least 20 separate lawsuits accuse Trump and managers at his companies of discriminating against women, ignoring sexual harassment complaints and even participating in the harassment themselves.

The details of these allegations, some not reported until now, suggest that the kinds of lewd and discriminatory actions reported this week may be more prevalent within Trump's organization than previously known.

In one lawsuit, a female supervisor at Trump National Golf Club near Los Angeles said Trump pulled her aside one day to complain about hiring.

“I want you to get some good looking hostesses here,” Trump told Sue Kwiatkowski, she recounted in a sworn statement corroborated by many other employees' testimony. She said he went on to say, “People like to see good looking people when they come in.” Managers acted on Trump’s directive, she and colleagues testified, to hire younger and “prettier” staff and to make sure other female workers were not seen whenever the big boss visited.

Another supervisor testified she refused to fire a female employee even after her boss threatened punishment, citing Trump’s desire for the woman to be fired because she was “fat.”

One married waitress testified that Trump always flirted with her, asking whenever she served him whether she was “still happily married.” She didn’t like it, but felt powerless to complain about a powerful, famous man like Trump.

The cases involving women are among about 130 employment cases involving Trump’s companies dating back to the 1980s, although many of them involve the individual companies' employees and managers rather than Trump personally. A definitive accounting of women claiming mistreatment by Trump or his companies isn’t possible because many such complaints are resolved internally and never escalate to a lawsuit. And, researchers consistently have found, many women don’t report such workplace behavior at all.

Two such examples are at the heart of two of this week’s explosive stories about Trump. Monday, The Associated Press reported that Trump systematically demeaned women during filming of NBC’s The Apprentice television show, discussing in front of them which ones he’d like to have sex with and asking other men in the room which ones they’d like to have sex with, among other vulgar behavior.

Friday, The Washington Post published video of Trump’s bragging, in lewd terms, with Billy Bush about his aggressive sexual advances on Nancy O’Dell, a married television host. None of those women have sued, and it’s unknown whether any of them complained to bosses at NBC or the shows’ producers.

Jill Martin, a vice president and assistant general counsel for The Trump Organization who handles the company’s labor cases, told USA TODAY last month that the number of those kind of lawsuits across Trump’s businesses is small for an organization of its size.

The Trump Organization “has a strong policy and does not tolerate harassment of any kind,” she told USA TODAY in response to questions about some of the sexual harassment lawsuits involving Trump’s companies. “We promptly investigate any claims and discipline upon substantiation of those claims and have an open door policy to encourage reporting of any discrimination.”

Sexual harassment? ‘You’re fired!’

This summer, Trump weighed in on the sexual harassment case against Fox News chief Roger Ailes by saying if his daughter Ivanka was sexually harassed, he would tell her to “find another career or find another company.” Eric Trump, vice president of The Trump Organization, added his sister wouldn’t “allow herself to be subjected to that” and would report it to human resources.

In at least three lawsuits reviewed by USA TODAY, women working for Trump companies allege that’s exactly what they did: they reported sexual discrimination or harassment and they lost their jobs. In several other cases, women described retaliation for making such complaints.

Just this summer, a woman who supervised the Trump Kids Club at the billionaire’s golf resort in Jupiter, Fla., sued Trump saying she endured “persistent, unwelcome sexual advances” by a manager. Erin Breen said she alerted human resources and her supervisor. In court, and in separate complaints to the Florida Commission on Human Relations and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Breen said Trump managers fired her two weeks after she complained.

Trump attorneys have yet to file an official response, but assistant general counsel Martin said the allegation is “without merit” and “we look forward to defeating her claims in court.”

Trump’s Chicago hotel also defended a lawsuit in 2010 over similar circumstances. A female server at Sixteen Chicago, a restaurant inside Trump Hotel and Tower, alleged she was subjected to “unwanted and offensive touchings” and “offensive sexual material” by a male chef.

Nausheen Nurani claimed she approached a general manager in 2008 about the issues and was fired two weeks later. Nurani sued and also filed complaints with the federal EEOC and Illinois Department of Human Rights. Trump’s lawyers fought the lawsuit, but a judge rejected their attempt to get the case tossed out. Trump settled the lawsuit in 2010, with undisclosed terms, a tactic that USA TODAY’s investigation has found in hundreds of lawsuits Trump has settled.

At Trump’s other Florida golf resort, a woman sued alleging she lost her job at Trump National Doral after becoming pregnant and complaining about her boss’ treatment after that. In state and federal lawsuits, Itzel Hudek claimed that despite a strong performance record, accommodations to her schedule during her pregnancy annoyed her supervisor, who she said retaliated. Ten days after returning from leave, Hudek said she was told to train another employee to do her job and then was laid off from the Miami resort.

Trump’s lawyers settled the lawsuits, but the terms are not disclosed in court records. Hudek told USA TODAY that she would rather not talk publicly about the case.

Staff not ‘pretty’ enough for Trump

While those claims involve Trump employees and no clear implication of his direct involvement, the case at Trump’s Los Angeles golf course includes a host of sworn statements by employees telling tales about how Trump himself directed managers to discriminate against women who didn’t meet his standard for attractiveness – and those managers’ acquiescence to his wishes.

In a class-action lawsuit Trump's lawyers settled in 2013 for nearly a half-million dollars, waitress Lucy Messerchmidt alleged Trump’s club in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., fired her after she complained about being denied work shifts because of her age and appearance. The suit, on behalf of nearly 1,000 golf club employees over wide-ranging labor issues, features sworn statement after sworn statement claiming discriminatory hiring, firing and on-the-job treatment of women Trump and other senior managers perceived as older, less attractive or overweight.

Messerschmidt, a restaurant hostess in her 40s, said she routinely was rotated off shifts when Trump visited the golf course because he “likes to see fresh faces” and “young girls,” according to court records. She complained to bosses because she was “not being scheduled to work when Donald Trump was on the premises because of my age and Mr. Trump’s known preference for young, pretty women in the hostess position,” according to a sworn statement filed in the case.

Messerschmidt has declined to talk publicly about the lawsuit. Several other employees made similar sworn statements, including catering director Hayley Strozier, who pushed back against male superiors when told that Trump preferred younger women on duty and was disappointed in one of her bosses “as a man and as a father” for abiding Trump’s wishes to fire one female employee because Trump thought she was “fat” and didn’t like seeing her when he visited.

Employee Stacia Solis testified she noticed that – before Messerschmidt complained – younger, prettier waitresses would be assigned to serve Trump’s table, although they weren’t the most talented servers at the resort. One male employee testified he never saw a male waiter serve Trump.

Waitress Maral Bolsajian said she did meet Trump five or six times while serving at the club from 2007 until 2010. The encounters bothered her because she felt Trump was too forward.

“Mr. Trump regularly greeted me with expressions like ‘How's my favorite girl?’ Later, after he learned (by asking me) that I was married – and happily so – he regularly asked ‘Are you still happily married?’ whenever he saw me.” Bolsajian testified that Trump “regularly” asked her to pose with him for photographs.

“I found these actions inappropriate and uncomfortable, but felt I had little recourse given that Donald Trump is not only the head of the company but also one of the most powerful, well-known people in the United States.”

The ‘American Dream’ calendar girls

In a more well-known case getting renewed attention this week, Jill Harth alleges Trump repeatedly made verbal and physical sexual advances while she and her future husband, George Houraney, partnered with Trump on a beauty pageant deal called the American Dream Festival.

In a federal lawsuit – filed while she and her husband were suing Trump for allegedly not paying them what he owed on the American Dream contract – Harth alleged that Trump forcibly touched her, time and again, at various meetings and parties over about a year’s time.

At one dinner party at Trump’s Plaza Hotel, she said in the lawsuit that Trump touched her thigh under the table, attempting to grab her “intimate private parts.” She alleged Trump also forced her into a bedroom at his Mar-A-Lago estate in Palm Beach, touched her “private parts in an act that constituted attempted rape.”

What’s more, in her lawsuit and in several interviews she’s given in recent weeks, Harth contends that Trump also harassed several of the models who were part of the American Dream pageant – offering them career opportunities in exchange for sexual encounters.

Harth dropped the suit in 1997 as a condition of Trump agreeing to settle the separate breach of contract lawsuit with American Dream. The terms are undisclosed in court records, though she has said in interviews it was about $100,000.

Trump’s team denied the claims at the time and attacked Harth in the press. As the allegations resurfaced, Trump told the Boston Globe in March that Harth’s claims were “nonsense” and that the sexual harassment allegations were spawned by the soured business deal.

Trump and his aides told The New York Times in May, as part of an article about Trump’s interactions with women that included Harth’s story, that her account should be discredited because she has continued to write Trump’s staff with warm wishes and asking for work as late as this fall and winter, expressing support for his presidential campaign.

Removing female dealers from floor

Beyond the lawsuits, there are other incidents documented in government records. For example, the state of New Jersey fined a Trump casino and its managers $200,000 after investigators found they discriminated against workers to cater to a rich gambler.

The New Jersey investigators said Trump’s casino managers would remove female dealers from the Trump Plaza floor because a particular high-roller gambler didn’t want women – or for that matter, black people – working at his tables when he played.

Employee Cathy Carlino testified at one state hearing that patron Robert Libutti “started cursing, screaming, banging the table, ‘I don’t want no (expletive) woman here. I don’t need these (expletive) in my game. I told you people before. Get her out of here. Why are you doing this to me?’” Lubutti, who has since died, was later banned from all Atlantic City casinos over alleged ties to the mafia. He was cited repeatedly in casino board investigations of Trump’s managers’ penchant for catering to him to keep him spending money at Trump casinos.

“There are, or ought to be, certain things that a casino hotel cannot sell or provide to a customer in order to assure his continued patronage,” then casino commissioner Steven Perskie said. “These things include honor and decency and simple human courtesy and an unwavering commitment to statutory obligations, including the law against discrimination.”


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