Black clergy leaders joined veteran Chateau Marmont workers on Friday morning (March 25) at a press conference held outside Roc Nation’s Hollywood office to urge its founder Jay-Z to reconsider his plan to host his exclusive Gold Party, the most coveted Oscar night invite, on the grounds of the legendary Sunset Strip hotel. L.A. hospitality union UNITE HERE Local 11 has organized an expanding, star-studded boycott movement, enacted in response to alleged systemic labor violations, racial injustice, and sexual discrimination.
Speakers included Rev. William D. Smart Jr., the executive director of the regional chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and Pastor Cue, with the Clergy For Black Lives.
“Jay-Z has said the right things,” Pastor Cue said from a podium as boycott supporters held signs behind him. “He’s said ‘Black Lives Matter.’ He has even given millions to the cause and we’re grateful for that. But right now, he is faced with putting his actions into alignment with his words.” He added: “You can’t say ‘Black Lives Matter’ and ignore the workers, most of them workers of color, who have spent years behind the scenes serving the Chateau’s A-list guests at the hotel and at your Gold Parties, but who were thrown out on the streets during the pandemic.”
Meanwhile, also on Friday morning, the union’s general counsel sent a letter to city officials, urging them to inform Jay-Z and Roc Nation that the event can’t go forward due to what would allegedly be multiple violations of the intended location’s zoning permit. The Gold Party, previously co-hosted by Jay-Z and Beyonce (who’s expected to perform her song “Be Alive” from King Richard on the awards telecast from a Compton tennis court), has eclipsed Vanity Fair’s event as the top post-Oscar stop. It took a hiatus in 2021 due to the pandemic but in recent years had been held in the Chateau’s parking garage. This time, it’s slated to take place in a disused adjacent lounge space, the former Bar Marmont, which Chateau owner André Balazs has considered converting into a members-only club.
The Bar Marmont space’s zoning permit places numerous restrictions on its use, according to a 2014 document viewed by The Hollywood Reporter. Among them: “The facility shall not be used for private parties from which the general public is excluded.”
A spokesperson for the Chateau contends that Roc Nation “has gotten a special permit from the city that supersedes our permit.” UNITE HERE Local 11 is skeptical: “If they have a permit to party all night long, we along with the Chateau’s neighbors would be interested in seeing it Sunday night,” says Zoe Tucker, a staff attorney with the union.
Roc Nation did not return requests for comment. Jay-Z has been silent since Variety first surfaced the Gold Party’s location on Mar. 21.
After the press conference in front of Roc Nation, Chateau employee Walter Almendarez, who was laid off in March 2020 after 23 years with the hotel, was intercepted by building security when he attempted to present a legal complaint he’d filed with the California Labor Commissioner alleging the Chateau and Roc Nation are in violation of SB-93, the state return-to-work law, by failing to rehire workers. LAPD officers soon arrived, encouraging protestors to leave.
The Chateau spokesperson notes that by agreement with Roc Nation, no hotel staff will be working the event, and blames the boycott for impeding the pace of return-to-work hiring. (The hotel claims that about 40 of the more than 200 employees who were laid off at the onset of the pandemic have now been brought back.) “They’re costing us revenue — there’s no doubt about it, it’s slowed our process down,” the representative says. “We’re bringing in less money. Why would that encourage us to hire at a faster rate?”
A Black former events server at the Chateau, Thomasina Gross, filed a 2021 lawsuit against the hotel. Her allegations included racial discrimination in job advancement.
“I’m a huge fan of Beyonce and Jay-Z, so working at their Gold Party year after year was such an honor and pleasure,” she said in statement on Mar. 22. “They made it a point to acknowledge our hard work and treated us like human beings, not just servers. They said our presence meant a lot to them in terms of helping their party be a success. As I allege in my lawsuit I faced sexual harassment as a Black woman while working other events at Chateau. I can’t help but think if Jay-Z knew how Chateau treats their workers, they wouldn’t ignore this fact and continue to throw parties there.”
The Chateau has been embattled since THR published a 2020 investigation into its toxic workplace, based on interviews with more than 30 employees. The story detailed claims that the general manager made racist comments and that the hotel’s culture of mistreating minorities included high-profile Black and Latino visitors. A representative for Tiffany Haddish confirmed two such incidents.
The hotel has subsequently faced multiple civil suits, including the Gross complaint, alleging discrimination and harassment. In a statement, the Chateau spokesperson described them as “meritless” and “manufactured,” noting they were “bought and paid for” by the union (which had been seeking to organize the hotel prior to the pandemic) and criticizing their filing in court as a bid for publicity before moving to arbitration.
Lauren Teukolsky, attorney to Gross and April Blackwell, who’s also sued for racial discrimination, takes exception to the characterization. “The idea that the union somehow ‘bought’ these claims is false,” she says. “I have my own law firm that’s entirely independent of the union. The union doesn’t pay me for my work on these cases. I took these cases because they have merit. We look forward to vindicating our clients’ claims.” Adds Tucker, the UNITE HERE Local 11 attorney: “The Chateau has, against the plaintiffs’ wishes, forced their cases out of public court and into private arbitration — a secretive system that Jay-Z himself has criticized for its paltry number of African-American arbitrators. The Chateau is only doubling down on its disrespect toward these two former employees, who are both Black women, by calling their good-faith legal claims a sham.”
Los Angeles City Councilmember, Nithya Raman, whose Fourth District represents the Chateau, supported the boycott and the litigants in a statement she provided to THR. “Angelenos have become aware of poor working conditions, racial discrimination, sexual harassment as well as unfair labor practices during the pandemic at Chateau Marmont, thanks to the bravery of workers who have spoken out, including Thommi Gross and April Blackwell,” she said. “We stand with the workers, and hope that Hollywood does not look away from these injustices.”
The growing boycott movement has been supported by the WGA and a slew of prominent Black figures, including Issa Rae, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Gabrielle Union, Robin Thede, Roxane Gay, Samira Wiley and Ashley Nicole Black. Adam McKay and his Don’t Look Up screenwriter David Sirota, both Oscar-nominated this year, pledged their support after the Gold Party news became public. Other entertainers who’ve signed on to the effort include Jane Fonda, Alfonso Cuaron, Lena Headey and Edie Falco.
In 2021, at least two productions — Being the Ricardos and The Offer — reversed initial plans to shoot at the hotel. “Writer-director Aaron Sorkin, the cast and crew of Being the Ricardos stand in solidarity with the Chateau Marmont’s workforce,” producer Todd Black said in a statement afterward. “We are committed to supporting and building a safe and equitable environment where everyone has the right to work with dignity and free from fear. We are thankful to the organizers of the hospitality workers’ union of UNITE HERE Local 11 for sharing this information about the mistreatment of the workers.”
This article was originally published by The Hollywood Reporter.