Hotel employee claims he was fired for being gay

An employee of The ARTE' Hotel (formerly Holiday Inn Hotel) in Nashville/Brentwood is claming he was fired for being gay and an openly-gay general manager at the same hotel expects he will be the next to go.

David Hill, who was human resources manager at ARTE', said he was fired Tuesday after the hotel's owner, Tarun Surti, found out Hill is gay.

"It was quite shocking," Hill said. "The manager of human resources, fired for being gay. Imagine that."

Hill said the hotel's non-discrimination policy includes protection for sexual orientation. He plans to file a lawsuit and is currently working with the ACLU, Tennessee Equality Project and Tennessee Labor Board to plan a course of action.

Surti said Hill was not fired because of his sexual orientation but because the hotel was 'scaling down' its workforce.

"This rumor is absolutely wrong," Surti said.

Hill worked at the hotel for about a month before his termination. Hotel General Manager Leonard Stoddard said Hill was an excellent employee who often worked from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. without complaint.

Stoddard said Hill's termination came after Surti received a letter which listed the names of several gay staff members including Hill and Stoddard. That letter was written by a former employee who had been fired for, among other reasons, being gay, Stoddard said.

Stoddard said Surti often voiced his pleasure with Hill's work, but once Surti found out that Hill is gay, he immediately had him fired him.

Stoddard said Surti fired Hill and told Stoddard he would soon need to find a new employer, as well. Stoddard has worked at the hotel for 10 months. He has not been officially terminated yet, but expects to be soon.

"I knew the owner’s personal position on the gay lifestyle, but, quite frankly, I never thought that he would be brazen enough to act on it," Stoddard said. "Apparently his position is, 'Let them sue me. I don’t give a damn.'"

Surti, however, tells a different story. He said Stoddard was given the choice that either he or Hill be let go since the company needed to make staff cuts. He said Stoddard chose to fire Hill so that he could remain employed.

"Times are tough and we have to cut corners to makes sure we survive the bad times," Surti said. "These are unhappy employees and they will say whatever they want to. Its absolutely wrong for them to say what they’re saying."

TEP President Christopher Sanders said, if Hill's and Stoddard's stories are accurate, the incident is further evidence that GLBT people need a law which protects them from unfair termination.

"This points to the need for us to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) because in many places our community is not protected," Sanders said. "Why in the 21st century aren't we focused on the most talented workforce and why are we focusing on issues like sexual orientation? We really need a law to help us get past this."

Stoddard said he isn't surprised by Surti's recent anti-gay actions, but he is in disbelief.

"Everyone is just now finding out that the owner is anti-gay," Stoddard said. "His wife is not in agreement with his view nor are his children, but he doesn’t care."

Surti said he has known that Stoddard was gay for many months and that it has had no impact on his employment at the hotel.

Sanders said Hill might have a good case for appealing within the company if ARTE' has a policy against discrimination based on sexual orientation.

"There are very talented employees who are being singled out because they're gay," Sanders said. "These employees are very brave for fighting back."

The discrimination charges are not the only legal battles Surti has to fight. According to court documents, Surti filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in September 2008 - about a year after he purchased the hotel.

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