Lawsuit alleges renowned Napa Valley resort, Solage, failed to stop sexual harassment
Years into the #MeToo movement, workers continue to contend with sexual harassment—and bosses who fail to prevent or address it.
That is the alleged case at the renowned Solage Resort & Spa in Napa Valley where management failed to address persistent sexual harassment endured and repeatedly reported by multiple women, according to a lawsuit filed against the luxury hotel, its parent company, Auberge Resort Collections, and Eliot Ferrer, the senior massage therapist and trainer accused of harassment.
“We exhausted every avenue to get something done about this, to keep him away,” says plaintiff Leila Muller, 33, of filing suit in December along with her colleague, Amy, 34, who worked as a massage therapist with Muller at the Spa at Solage.
A third woman, Beatriz, 25, formerly a sales agent in Solage’s reservations department, has since joined the lawsuit. (Amy and Beatriz are aliases as both still work in the hospitality industry in the area.)
Multiple calls, emails and messages to Solage Resort & Spa, Auberge Resort Collections and Ferrer went unanswered and not returned.
The lawsuit alleged Ferrer’s inappropriate behavior included intrusive questions about the women’s personal lives and relationships, sexual talk, inappropriate touching and, later, increasingly threatening behavior like waiting for them in the parking lot after shifts.
The lawsuit claims Ferrer invited Muller and Amy to do massage trainings at his home after work hours (which they refused.) Beatriz would sometimes feel trapped in uncomfortable conversation with Ferrer in the break room, the complaint says, and once had to push past as he stood blocking the doorway.
“His unwelcome and intrusive behavior, both verbally and physically, permeated their work environment at Auberge,” the suit reads.
“I've worked at a lot of places,” says Amy, who, as an on-call massage therapist, has been in as many as eight spas at a time. “I’m very familiar with spa personalities, and this is the first one that stopped me in my tracks.”
The behavior described—which reportedly continued and escalated over the course of more than a year—is just one dimension of the litigation. The other is management’s alleged failure to protect its employees.
According to the lawsuit, Muller and Amy eventually reported the harassment to supervisors and human resources. Management investigated, allegedly corroborated the women’s claims and promised to take action, including disciplining Ferrer and assuring the women’s schedules wouldn’t overlap with his.
But the women say no relief came. They continued to be put in close quarters with Ferrer, and he continued his harassing behavior. Muller and Amy say they continued to convey their discomfort to both Ferrer and management to no avail.
In fact, Muller and Amy claim the situation only worsened, with Ferrer becoming increasingly hostile after they complained and Muller even losing appointments to him.
Feeling out of options, Muller took to hiding out in spa treatments rooms to avoid Ferrer. “I would see a shadow and think, ‘He’s coming in here,’” she says.
Amy felt similarly trapped. “It broke me down,” she told me in an interview. “The fact that they weren't doing anything about it week after week after week. It was mentally draining, emotionally draining.”
Beatriz said she informally mentioned her own discomfort with Ferrer to a manager who apparently took no action, according to the suit. Discouraged, she suffered in silence until she later left Solage in late 2019.
“A work environment was created where nobody felt safe,” says John Winer, senior partner at Winer, Burritt & Scott LLP, the law firm representing the plaintiffs.
“If you let somebody get away with this, if you don't fire somebody who has multiple accusations with credible proof, the problem is going to spread.”
One-third of California women reporting sexual harassment said it happened in the workplace, according to a 2019 survey. Transgender and nonbinary people are also frequently victimized. (Men are too, though to a lesser degree.)
While important, having workplace sexual harassment policies in place is just part of the solution. Solage, a high-profile hotel and spa, has harassment training and protocols that the women followed to report Ferrer.
“It's really easy to talk the talk of anti-sexual harassment policy,” Winer told me.
“What's important is whether you walk the walk of actually enforcing that policy, and Auberge did absolutely nothing. That sends a terrible message to all the employees, a message that if somebody complains, it's not going to do any good whatsoever.”