Real Estate News

‘Hispanic emotionalism’ got 2 employees behind Brickell City Centre fired, lawsuit says

Brickell City Centre
Brickell City Centre

Two former Swire Properties employees are suing their former company for allegedly discriminating against Hispanics.

First reported by The Real Deal, the lawsuit alleges that Swire’s Head of U.S. Operations, Kieran Bowers, tried to “purge” the company’s management team of Hispanics. The plaintiffs — Efren Ales, previously assistant vice president of Asset Management and Operations, and Erika Tejeda, former assistant HR manager — say they were fired for “refusing to curb (their) perceived Hispanic mannerisms,” which they defined as “a particular variety of ‘emotionalism and ‘outspokenness,’ ” according to the lawsuit filed in a Miami-Dade Circuit Court.

Swire is best known for developing the $1 billion, 5.4-million-square-foot Brickell City Centre, a mixed-used project including condos, offices, the East hotel and a 500,000-square-foot multilevel retail area. It also developed Brickell Key.

In response to questions from the Miami Herald, Swire Properties wrote in an email: “While we are not able to comment on pending litigation. Swire has a longstanding commitment to diversity and inclusion and opposes discrimination in any form. We are proud to be an Equal Opportunity Employer and will be defending these claims in court.”

The two lawsuits allege the discrimination began shortly after Bowers replaced former president Stephen Owens in 2017.

According to the lawsuit, Ales was fired on Nov. 11, 2017, on “a flimsy pretext” of “trust issues” related to conflicts of interest stemming from other real estate investments. The true reason, according to the suit, was discrimination and retaliation because of Ales “perceived ‘Hispanic emotionalism.’ ‘’

According to the suit, Bowers insisted “on a rigidly quiet office atmosphere and formal dress-code that was clearly at-odds with Swire’s diverse culture. [Ales] and Bowers clashed over these changes.” The suit further alleges that Bowers told Ales, “I understand that your Hispanic culture is very loud, passionate and emotional, but that type of expression will not be tolerated in this organization.”

In her suit, Tejeda alleges that she was targeted for her “ ‘Hispanic emotionalism,’ and perceived Hispanic appearance,” as well as her request for medical leave to care for her sick mother. She alleges that she was told she looked “unprofessional” and was told to wear her hair in a ponytail and “try not to look sexy.”

Each is seeking damages in excess of $15,000.

Daniel L. Leyton, a Hialeah attorney, is representing both clients. He could not be reached for comment.