Cameron Kuhn is the city-anointed person charged with reviving downtown. He recently snapped up the struggling Church Street Station entertainment complex for $34 million and everyone is waiting to see what he plans for it. His Premiere Trade Plaza, in what used to be called the Jaymont block, is nearing completion. Orlando is a very different place than it was only a few years ago, thanks to Kuhn's projects.
Mayor Buddy Dyer, in a 2003 speech, gushed about the contributions of Kuhn's company, Kuhn Management, in restoring more than a dozen office buildings. "I asked Cameron Kuhn to imagine a great city over a cup of coffee … Cameron Kuhn has answered the challenge I put before him many months ago," Dyer said.
The two are close. Kuhn or his companies contributed $5,000 to Dyer's last election. David Dix, Dyer's former chief of staff, now works for Kuhn.
Publicly, Kuhn is depicted as a mover and shaker remaking Orlando at breakneck speed. But a recent lawsuit in federal court paints Kuhn's company, Kuhn Management Inc., as a place you wouldn't want to work if you're Hispanic.
The suit, filed in December, lists 18 former Kuhn Management janitors and supervisors who are suing the company, alleging 78 counts of discrimination, retaliation, a hostile work environment, unpaid overtime pay and wrongful firings. The workers, all Hispanic, say that after multiple harassment complaints to managers, their jobs were outsourced and they were fired. (Two other lawsuits in federal court filed against Kuhn Management in August 2005 and in January allege unpaid wages. One of the two was settled out of court and the other is pending.)
According to the complaint, the problem began in February 2004 when Ray Jordan, Kuhn Management's tenant-relations manager, made the following statement: "All of the Spanish guys in the janitorial company threw away over $5,000 worth of stuff. I don't know why we have people that don't understand English, so they just throw things away."
The next month, according to court documents, he said: "We have too many people working for us that don't understand English, and we shouldn't hire any more."
Jordan allegedly accused the "Spanish guys" of stealing a battery charger, a cell phone and a sweater in mid-2004. The battery charger showed up at Kuhn's home a week after it was reported missing, while the cell phone was recovered from behind a desk and the sweater was later found in its owner's car.
During the summer of 2004, the affidavit alleges Jordan repeatedly harassed the workers, often claiming "some of them are illegal aliens" and that "some of them were being paid for not coming to work."
Also listed in the suit is an incident in which quality-control supervisor Manuel Crisostomo was stopped from making purchases at a Home Depot with the company's American Express card, though non-Hispanic employees had been allowed the privilege. Crisostomo was later allowed to use the card.
On Feb. 24, 2006, the affidavit notes that Crisostomo was meeting with outside contractors at Kuhn Management's office when he heard Jordan say, "Do you know what country is the most corrupt in the world? Puerto Rico!" By March 8 of that year, the employees were fired. One employee had already quit by that time.
Crisostomo says he was offered severance pay after his departure if he didn't sue. When it became clear he had obtained legal counsel, Kuhn Management employee Rich Compton accused Crisostomo of falsifying payroll information and claimed he found incriminating photos of an affair on Crisostomo's company computer. Crisostomo says both allegations are untrue.
Repeated complaints and subsequent meetings with Jordan prompted a meek, forced apology but didn't result in disciplinary action, the suit states, even though he admitted making the racist comments.
"(Management) said they knew what he was doing was wrong but they couldn't fire him because they might get in trouble for age discrimination," says Crisostomo, noting his former boss is in his 70s.
"Jordan didn't like Hispanic people at all. Almost every day he would make comments, all day long," Crisostomo says. "He said Spanish people lie, cheat and steal."
Overtime compensation also was a problem, with one worker complaining he wasn't paid time and a half for extra hours he put in. According to the complaint, Hispanic workers also were denied the opportunity to work overtime though a white counterpart was allowed to rack up hours.
Crisostomo also notes in the documents that following his termination, two former co-workers informed him Jordan showed up at work with a bag full of Nazi paraphernalia.
"It's just unbelievable. He never got in trouble," says Crisostomo, who links problems with Kuhn Management directly to the man whose name is on it. "A lot of people think he's a great man, but what his company is doing is no good."
Kuhn Management did not return calls for this story.
Crisostomo says that Kuhn Management so far has made two settlement offers; the workers rejected both. Dale Scott, an attorney representing the janitors, declined to discuss the offers, though he says Kuhn Management has been cooperative. It could be two years or so before a judge hears the case.
"It just takes a while, which can be frustrating to everyone involved," Scott says.
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