Former employees at Swire Properties filed a lawsuit in August against the company claiming they were fired because there was no place for “Hispanic Emotionalism” at work.
Swire, a Hong Kong-based billion dollar development company that is gentrifying part of downtown Miami, has no Latino executives, and has a diversity policy that says they review it, “from time to time.”
Efren Ales, former Swire executive, reported that US operations head Kieran Bowers, who had been with the company for a decade and president since 2017, said Hispanic emotionalism and passion would not be tolerated in the new office culture.
He said Bowers fired Hispanic employees with questionable basis and demanded quieter office atmosphere with strict dress codes. The lawsuit states, Bowers began, “squeezing out loud, Hispanic employees who would not curb these ethnic mannerisms.”
Erika Tejeda, a former assistant HR manager, reported Bowers’ pick for VP of HR singled her out saying repeatedly to “not try to look sexy” and to wear “more sweaters and dresses.” Non-Hispanic employees were not addressed that way.
Tejeda, a 20-year employee of Swire, was part of the former president Stephen Owens’s efforts that had “assembled a strong team at Swire, which reflected Miami’s diversity and spirit, and which drew from Miami’s largely Hispanic population,” according to the lawsuit. Tejeda was demoted for no performance reason, after Owens left, Bowers eliminated the company’s use of ADP and hired Tejeda’s new boss.
Ales was fired for “trust issues” by Bowers, and Tejeda was fired 12 hours after asking for Family Medical Leave to care for her mother.
Swire’s response: “We look forward to presenting our defenses to these claims in court, and we believe we will be vindicated.”
The company’s success in Miami (500,000 square feet of retail and restaurants, plans to build another mixed use tower and develop additional lots they own downtown) has been a part of gentrifying downtown neighborhoods like Brickell, currently the home of a billion-dollar mixed use development set to expand and push back minority neighborhoods.
While downtown Miami historically was predominantly brown and Black due to racism, red-lining and segregation, according to community activist Valencia Gunder, people of color have more recently been pushed out of the city’s high elevation areas to make way for the new developments.
Bowers has said about the area: “We are really happy with the location. Commercially, it’s been a success, so we’re looking to add more to it.”
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