Celebrity hotelier Andre Balazs, accused of sexual harassment and racial discrimination, is now battling his Mercer business partners, who claim self-dealing and financial mismanagement. Meanwhile, Hollywood figures are taking public stands against him.
Embattled hotelier Andre Balazs’ partners in Manhattan’s Mercer — a key crossroads for the fashion and entertainment crowd — are attempting to kick him out of their business.
His colleagues claim in a new lawsuit, filed on April 9 in New York, that he needs to be removed due to his financial mismanagement of the property, failure to address myriad staffing issues and the fallout over recent revelations regarding his stewardship of L.A.’s Chateau Marmont. The filing also discloses that Balazs’ partners had sought to terminate him as managing director of the hotel over “ongoing and gross misconduct” as early as November 2019, but that he refused to step down.
“Balazs’ willful, intentional disregard of his duties and apparent misappropriation of assets have, among other things, crippled the manager’s ability to properly manage [the hotel], caused reputational harm, and resulted in third-party litigation and significant monetary losses,” the complaint reads.
The Mercer — which has drawn the likes of Marc Jacobs, Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe (who, while staying in a $3,000-a-night suite in 2005, infamously threw a phone at a front-desk employee) — is a landmark six-story SoHo building, developed for John Jacob Astor II. It’s popular for its lobby-level restaurant, run by acclaimed chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, and its modern-minimalist decor by the late French designer Christian Liaigre.
In September 2020, dozens of Chateau Marmont employees spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about the iconic hotel’s toxic working environment, describing it as abounding in racial discrimination and sexual misconduct, perpetuated by complicit management and ownership. Balazs himself was accused of racist hiring practices and unwanted touching and other inappropriate behavior toward Chateau employees, either at work or during company events, as well as at the properties of the Standard hotel group, where he served as chairman and which he’d founded in 1998. He and the hotel have denied it all.
The Mercer filing alleges that Balazs “engaged in self-dealing” by charging the Mercer’s parent company $100,000 in “personal legal expenses” related to the settlement of harassment allegations against him — and that he “refuses to explain” either those claims or discuss other similar issues at the hotel. (WWD first reported the lawsuit.)
In a statement provided to THR, Balazs’ lawyer Jonathan Lupkin says: “This lawsuit has no merit, contains numerous legal and factual errors, and appears to have been filed solely as a pretext to advance unrelated business objectives. We look forward to setting the record straight and prevailing as soon as possible.”
Since the publication of THR’s September story, multiple employees have filed civil lawsuits against the Chateau alleging discrimination. Since then, Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascon, who took office in December, has noted he’s aware of the claims against the hotel, explaining: “Workers can often feel powerless when dealing with hostile workplaces, dangerous work conditions and wage theft.”
A pledge to boycott the Chateau, organized by L.A. hospitality union Unite Here 11, continues to pick up celebrity endorsers. Jane Fonda was an early signatory, followed more recently by Alfonso Cuaron, Lena Headey, Edie Falco, Constance Zimmer and Alison Pill. Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello separately tweeted a message of solidarity with the hotel’s employees, urging a boycott: “Chateau Marmont fired hundreds of its workers last year, leaving those who had given decades of their lives without job security or healthcare during this pandemic.”
The Chateau, long a preferred haven for the self-styled in-crowd, now finds itself on the outs with everyone from local officials to organizations like SAG-AFTRA and the National Organization for Women, which have decried it. In January, pastor Stephen “Cue” Jn-Marie, of the L.A.-based Clergy for Black Lives, likened the hotel’s apparent treatment of its employees to “plantation capitalism.”