Let me open by announcing that Anne Levine, the erstwhile Human Resources Director at Alcatraz Cruises just resigned, presumably forced out as a consequence of recent events, thanks to the support my case is generating from around the world. First, Assistant Guest Services Manager Douglas Linares [who repeatedly referred to African-American employees derisively and derogatorily, by the N-word] resigned and now Ms. Levine. It took only four years to achieve some measure of justice but I am a patient individual. The dominoes are falling and only time will tell where it will stop. Social media and the power of exposure has driven this course of action from day one….so I want to thank you all for your steadfast and continuing support.
So, on Tuesday, June 24, 2014, in the least of the legal battles I am facing against the patently prejudiced, monolithic cruise company, Alcatraz Cruises LLC, which runs the ferry service out to Alcatraz Island from Pier 33 landing in San Francisco, California, and known for its intimidating tactics, under the parent umbrella of Hornblower Cruises, I came away with a victory, albeit a pyrrhic victory. I hesitate to consider the settlement, because that's what it was, a settlement, a victory only because it was a clear case of 'a bird in hand being worth two in the bush'.
A few months before I had resigned, (for reasons you all well know), I had been entered into the so-called 'International' Q2 Customer Service Competition by Hornblower Cruises (Hornblower operates over 30 cruise ships in New York, Berkeley, Marina Del Rey, Sacramento, Long Beach, San Diego and Newport Beach. The company also runs ferries in the Bahamas, Florida, Alabama, and on both Lake Michigan and Lake Ontario. Terry MacRae, the owner of Hornblower, is (ironically, for a business making millions of dollars in a heavily liberal region of the country) reputed to be heavily wired into both the defunct George Bush administration and current Tea Party Republican Party. Hornblower also has a contract to run ferry services for US Marines on Okinawa, Japan)
As it was explained to me, initially, I had been nominated by several managers for my excellent work ethic, but the final decision to elect the winner was placed in the hands of the guests (which irritated the senior management of Alcatraz Cruises to no end) and the incredible and overwhelming volume of positive customer comments through surveys, emails, comment cards and in person regarding my character, cheerful demeanor and helpful customer service skills helped seal the decision. Representing the company against all other Hornblower companies, I won the first prize, which was supposed to be $1000.00 in cash and an ocean cruise for two, supposedly worth $4000.00. The company did pay the one thousand in cash shortly after I won.
This was in July, 2013. I was told the cruise expired in December, 2013 and hurried to explain to both the Operations Manager, Denise R. and the General Manger Scott .T. that since I had already booked my vacation for December, would it be possible for it to be transferred into a cash remuneration or an airfare/cash exchange for the following year. The GM acquiesced and promised to 'make it happen'. As relations between us soured and I eventually resigned, the company refused to honor the agreement, claiming I should take it up with Royal Caribbean Cruises.
However at the Labor Commission hearing, after I tendered several texts in which there was a clear pattern of communication between the GM and I, in which I kept reminding him of his promise and asking when we could sit down and hammer out the details, the GM was pretty much not permitted to speak by the company's high-priced attorney's whose position (I represented myself…..I can't afford a $500/ hr attorney) was that the company had no such agreement with me, as the GM did not SPECIFICALLY say anywhere that he promised to 'make it happen'. He simply 'SEEMED guilty of acquiescing, by omission of responding to my texts'. I stated that he could easily have responded by denying or asking what the heck I was talking about if the texts didn't make sense to him at the time. However they were willing to 'be gracious' and offered a settlement for approximately 40% of the value of the cruise I was suing for.
When a corporation offers to settle, there are one of three things at play. The company is paying way too much for legal representation and they regard the case a nuisance they'd rather settle. They are nervous that some aspects of your case might raise eyebrows at their ethics and embarrass them, or they genuinely are afraid of losing. I counter offered which the attorney flatly declined, stating that "What I have stated is my final offer and that's as high as the company is willing to go".
I respectfully declined, asking him how it is that, allegedly, last month, Hornblower just took over control of the maintenance and storage facility that serviced the Maid of the Mist fleet for Niagara Falls, paying the Ontario government $500 million over 30 years….$300 million more than their competitor had offered, and yet, vindictively and unscrupulously, cheat a highly decorated employee out of a few thousand dollars (when they could man up and do the right thing, settling all the claims, if just to make it all go away) that was less than what they paid one attorney in a day. With a lazy sardonic grimace, the attorney acknowledged that he earned more than that amount in a day while I just sat there shaking my head.
I told him I thought it was incredulous that the company would rather shoulder the negative publicity value of these bullying tactics for a few thousand bucks. The attorney hurriedly scribbled this last comment down (making sure to let me know he was writing my words down ~ ooh, I'm quaking in my boots) on his expensive, seemingly monogrammed legal pad. After they left, I decided to relent and accept the offer. I called the GM and relayed this to him and they returned to the facility. I had one condition though. He had to accept a different offer increased by the paltry sum of twenty dollars ($20). That is the price of an attorney's integrity and conscience. I should have made it one cent. He asked why I had made the stipulation and I explained that I just wanted to see what his integrity, in not sticking with his previously stated 'final offer', was worth.
This is just the first salvo. The main racial discrimination case is upcoming and there is a class action lawsuit that over a dozen current and ex-employees of Alcatraz Cruises intend to file against the company as well as a Federal EEOC claim against the company. The GM just seemed relieved we could work this out and took umbrage at my suggestion that he was a 'company man'. They seem to miss the point. This is about justice, not money. They can always find dollar figures to throw out there and assuage their consciences. Their victims can always accept (or decline) these offers to patch up the holes in their hearts after relentlessly giving the company their blood, sweat and tears (sometimes literally). However, it is a sad testament to the culture of repression in our lives that victims need to revert to lawsuits in courts, hearings at commissions and pleas to the public in order to seek and secure justice. Maybe, if these types of companies simply did the right thing from the beginning, situations like these wouldn't occur. That's just a thought.