Business

Lennar CEO’s ex-housekeeper claims in suit she was harassed by fellow employee

Stuart Miller, CEO of Lennar Corp., in 2006.
Stuart Miller, CEO of Lennar Corp., in 2006. Miami Herald File Photo

A single mother of two has sued Stuart Miller, the CEO of building giant Lennar Corp., after she says she was sexually harassed by one of his household employees and then fired when she spoke up, Miami-Dade County court records show.

Viviana Santana was a housekeeper at Miller’s Star Island estate from November 2014 to April 2016. The lawsuit, filed in June and amended in October, names both Miller, 60, and Jose Armando Rivera Martinez, a deckhand who reports to the captain of Miller's boat. Santana claims in the suit that Rivera demanded daily sexual favors beginning about six months after she was hired, and that Miller had a responsibility to keep better tabs on Rivera.

Santana did not accuse Miller of sexual harassment.

In the complaint, first reported by the Daily Business Review, Santana says Rivera had control over her employment and that she is suing him for individual liability for sex discrimination, retaliation and intentional infliction of emotional distress. She also said there was no system in place for her to report sexual harassment.

Santana said she was fired in April 2016, 10 days after complaining to Miller’s 29-year-old son, David, about the alleged harassment, which took place for about a year, the suit says. Miller denied knowing about the complaint made to his son, and told the Miami Herald in a statement that Santana never reported the allegations to her direct supervisor and property manager, Yoreila Chayeb.

Chayeb, in an email sent to the Herald on Friday, said as Santana’s supervisor, “We spoke nearly every single day during her employment. She never mentioned a word to me about sexual harassment by Armando or any other co-worker. I never witnessed any of the alleged harassment.’’

Miller filed a motion for dismissal in mid-November. His attorneys said that it was “impossible” for him “to have retaliated against the plaintiff by terminating her” because Miller didn’t know she had complained to his son.

Brian Bilzin, a founding partner for Bilzin Sumberg, issued a statement to the Miami Herald Friday saying that Miller hired Bilzin’s firm to perform an extensive, independent investigation of Santana’s claims upon learning about them last year. Bilzin said other employees at the home were interviewed, and there was no evidence of harassment.

“Ms. Santana’s termination was warranted and based solely on poor and unprofessional performance,” Bilzin said. “When she was terminated, Ms. Santana signed a separation agreement and general release. At the time of her termination, she made no mention of any harassment complaint. In the separation agreement signed by Ms. Santana, she specifically waived her rights to pursue any legal action against Mr. Miller.”

Santana is seeking lost earnings, back pay, punitive and compensatory damages, along with attorney fees.

According to the complaint, Santana says Miller created an environment that allowed misconduct by Rivera, who she said was effectively her boss due to his relationship with Miller. She said Miller and Rivera were very close, and that Miller had given Rivera a car, access to credit cards and the run of the mansion.

Miller himself kept a distance from his house staffers, who according to the complaint “were not allowed in Miller’s quarters until Miller left the house for work.”

In the lawsuit, Santana claims Rivera “gestured to his erect penis and told her she was causing him to have an erection” while she folded laundry, and told Santana several times to have sex with him. The lawsuit says he grabbed Santana’s hand and tried to place it on his genitals.

Rivera also repeatedly demanded that Santana abandon her work duties and meet him at his car for sex, according to the complaint, and would ask her to do things that weren’t in her job description, like cleaning Miller’s boat.

Santana says she was even asked to shave Rivera’s legs, chest, back and head. She also says she had to shave David Miller’s back.

The news of the lawsuit emerged this week as women across the country are coming forward with allegations and stories of sexual harassment involving prominent figures in the workplace and in government.

Miller is the former chairman of the University of Miami Board of Trustees and has been the CEO of Lennar Corp since 1997. He received $19.2 million in compensation last year, according to 2016 shareholder proxies. His late father, Leonard, co-founded the company, which is now the largest home-builder in the U.S.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story identified Jose Armando Rivera Martinez as a household supervisor. According to Miller, Rivera is a deckhand who reports to the captain of Miller's boat.

Miami Herald Staff Writer Carli Teproff contributed to this report.

Monique O. Madan: 305-376-2108, @MoniqueOMadan

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