Another MSU survivor shares story: Shooting was 'one of my biggest fears'

Foundation Hotel plagued by racist staff, ex-staffer says

Robert Snell
The Detroit News
The Foundation Hotel, formerly the Detroit Fire Headquarters, sits on West Larned and Washington.

Detroit — Management at the city's boutique hotel in a former Detroit firehouse is plagued by racism, including executives who handpicked staff by skin and hair color and who banished black employees from an anniversary party for being “too dirty," according to a civil rights lawsuit.

Twana Simmons, a former human resources coordinator at the Detroit Foundation Hotel, leveled the allegations in a lawsuit filed in federal court Tuesday.

The Detroit resident said she had a "bird's eye view of the rampant racism" among supervisors at the hotel, which opened to fanfare in a converted firehouse May 2017 across Washington Boulevard from Cobo Center.

Simmons was fired last year after complaining about racist statements, according to the lawsuit, and alleging that one job applicant was rejected for being "too dark." A hotel manager also wanted to hire a "white brunette" for a job, according to the lawsuit.

"Ultimately, because of her efforts to stop racism within Detroit Foundation Hotel, (Simmons) was fired," her lawyer Richard Mack wrote in the lawsuit.

A hotel lawyer could not be reached immediately for comment Tuesday.

Simmons sued the hotel and its general manager, alleging racial harassment and discrimination and violations of the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act. She is seeking unspecified damages and wants a federal judge to have hotel supervisors undergo anti-discrimination training.

An empty downtown firehouse was turned into the stylish Detroit Foundation hotel in May. Its restaurant, the Apparatus Room, features original firehouse doors,  lighting by Insight Detroit Lighting, glazed tile and other accents supplied by local artists.

Simmons witnessed repeated instances of racism, according to the lawsuit.

In February 2018, Simmons attended a planning meeting for the hotel's one-year anniversary party. A high-level manager said she "did not want the employees of the hotel to attend the party because 'they are not polished'" and "dirty," according to the lawsuit.

During other meetings, the same manager rejected prospective black employees, calling them "too dark" and saying she wanted to hire a young, white brunette for a top job, Simmons alleged.

"(Simmons) emphasized how uncomfortable the comments made her feel," her lawyer wrote.

Hotel executives later hired a white brunette woman for the job, according to the lawsuit.

In May 2018, Simmons proposed sending black hotel employees to Chicago for a business event. A human resources official refused, however, according to the lawsuit.

After Simmons said only offering opportunities to white employees would seem racist, the human resources official became visibly agitated.

The official "reminded (Simmons) that she dates black guys and said that she hates when people say the company is racist," according to the lawsuit.

Simmons says she was fired last year over a dispute involving a podcast room at the hotel and whether she had permission to use the facility. 

(313) 222-2486

Twitter: @robertsnellnews