When Rachel Sakabo was unceremoniously dumped from her prominent position as a front desk concierge at the St. Regis hotel in Manhattan, she was told it was because she wasn’t a good fit with the culture of the establishment. But Sakabo is crying foul on the excuse, claiming instead that she was canned for having dreadlocks, according to Buzzfeed News.
Sakabo remembers being “floored” when she was offered the “super prestigious” role at the five-star hotel, especially since she’d been unemployed for seven months leading up to it. “I wanted this job, and when I got hired I felt so proud,” she told Buzzfeed News. But just two weeks into her tenure, the front-desk manager at the St. Regis pulled Sakabo aside to inform her of the hotel’s policy on sporting braids, the article says. Sakabo assured her manager, “They’re aren’t braids; they’re locs,” according to the publication, but the manager replied, “Well, can you unlock them?”
Feeling shamed, Sakabo retreated to the bathroom to cry, but not before offering to shave her head in order to keep her job, according to the story, as dreadlocks can’t be undone. Wondering what her rights are in a situation like this, Sakabo talked to a fellow African American colleague, who urged the 32-year-old to consult her hotel union representative. Until she had completed the mandatory 60-day probationary period required by law, though, Sakabo could not be protected by the union.
John Turchiano, a spokesperson for the New York Hotel Workers Union, told BuzzFeed News, “It’s in the collective bargaining agreement that management has the right to terminate an employee, with or without cause, within the 60-day probationary period without any recourse for the union’s arbitration machinery,” Turchiano said, though he “wishes the union could have heard the issue.”
But her employers made no mention of her hair when they let her go a week later. Instead, they pointed out that she didn’t fit in with the culture of the hotel, and even suggested she’d fare better at a more laid-back hotel like the W, according to Buzzfeed. When Sakabo asked them to clarify exactly what the St Regis’ culture is and why she doesn’t fit in, though, her employers wouldn’t elaborate.
Now, she feels the “warning” she received about her hair was a precursor to her firing. “I don’t think I was rightfully let go. I definitely think it has to do with the fact that I’m black and I have dreads,” Sakabo told BuzzFeed News. She even produced a copy of the “St. Regis Appearance Standards,” a document that makes no mention of dreadlocks or braids, but rather requests that hair “style and color should be conservative and not fall on the face or obstruct eye-to-eye contact.” A photo Sakabo provided of her dreadlocked look shows she did not violate those standards.
“All this just to say even though they didn’t mention my hair, it’s just so very convenient that this happened right after. Just saying I don’t fit into the culture is so damaging. Because, then what is the culture then? I need answers,” Sakabo told Buzzfeed News. While she doesn’t have any proof, Sakabo goes on to speculate to the publication that the firing was even more personal, saying that she believes it was “an internal managerial issue ‘specific at the St. Regis’ in Manhattan and by someone ‘who does not feel comfortable with me being there,‘” according to the publication, which adds that Sakabo “does not believe her treatment is reflective of Starwood Hotels or the St. Regis chain at large.”
During Sakabo’s interviews, orientation, and first weeks of work, according to Buzzfeed News, she had her hair in dreadlocks , and “no time during orientation or the interviews was there any mention of her hairstyle or hairstyles in general.” This led one Buzzfeed News reader to speculate that a complaint from someone staying at the hotel may have spurred the firing. “It’s always better to tell an employee why you were dissatisfied with their performance. Keeping them guessing is what causes accusations of unfair firing,” the commenter suggested.
“If the hair thing had never been brought up, I never would have thought this thing was unfair,” Sakabo said, according to Buzzfeed News. She plans to contact the Department of Labor and Starwood Hotels in search of answers, and is currently unemployed again.