(Ed note: In response to the racial profiling incident at the Hotel Vitale described in Harrison Chastang’s article below, CEO Chip Conley issued the following statement)
Prejudice still exists in America. It is real and palpable. While we’ve all witnessed superficial changes in America over the past four decades, the reality is that people “pre-judge” each other way too much, whether it’s based upon skin color, religion, sexual orientation, age, economic status, or some other factor that makes one “the other.” As one of the owners of the Hotel Vitale and Americano restaurant, I want to publicly apologize for the treatment Professor Ngugi wa Thiong’o received from one of our employees on November 10. While this employee has a good work history, the truth is that this employee “pre-judged” and disrespected the Professor by assuming he was not a guest in the hotel. Within a few minutes, when this employee was proven wrong, he was remorseful and ashamed and he has been put on leave from work as we review this matter further. What is troubling is that he, along with all of our employees, received mandatory diversity training, yet this incident still happened. I am deeply sorry for the offense this has caused Professor Ngugi wa Thiong’o and the community. I have sent a private letter of apology to the Professor, as has the General Manager and the offending employee.
This is a matter of great importance to me personally. I went to Long Beach Poly High School, one of the finest inner city public high schools in America well known for its diversity. I have a mixed race foster son who identifies as African-American. I am in a long-term relationship with an African-American. Our company supports more than one dozen local multi-cultural organizations. In sum, we have always tried our hardest to assure we are part of the solution, not part of the problem. That is why this incident is personally very troubling for me as we have created a diverse workforce that has high employee satisfaction and, relative to other companies, we have a grass roots track record of respecting our employees, our customers, and the community. Yet, clearly we are not perfect and we need to do better.
On Friday I met with key members of PAN (Priority African Network) and we came up with mutually acceptable means of making amends to the community. This will include a public apology ad in a local newspaper, a donation to an anti-racism local non-profit, and deeper anti-racism training of staff (beyond just normal diversity training).
Thank you for expressing your sadness, anger, surprise, and anguish. We are using it as a continuing “wake-up call” to assure that every one of our employees respects every single person they come into contact with – whether they are a customer or not. Every human deserves to be respected and acknowledged.