Stuart Miller, the CEO of Miami-based homebuilder Lennar Corp., is being sued by a fired housekeeper, who said she was dismissed after reporting she was sexually harassed by an employee who reported to Miller.
Viviana Santana, a single mother of two who worked as a housekeeper at Miller’s Star Island estate from November 2014 to April 2016, also sued the employee, Jose Armando Rivera Martinez.
Rivera had “supreme authority” over the household, and Miller created an environment that allowed misconduct by Rivera, the complaint said.
The lawsuit was filed by Jennifer A. Kerr of Jennifer A. Kerr P.A. in Coral Gables and Mario G. Menocal of The Law Offices of Mario G. Menocal on June 20 and amended Oct. 6.
Counts against Miller include vicarious liability, retaliation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligent retention and supervision of Rivera.
Santana is suing Rivera for individual liability for sex discrimination, retaliation and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
The Miami-Dade Circuit Court complaint portrays the two men as close — with Miller giving Rivera a car and access to credit cards.
“The special relationship between Miller and Rivera was understood by all house staff, who knew that if they disobeyed Rivera they could be fired,” Santana’s attorneys wrote.
Miller’s relationship with housekeepers, on the other hand, was much different, according to the complaint. They were forbidden from approaching Miller or entering his “quarters” when he was home, the complaint said.
Santana said she was fired 10 days after complaining to Miller’s son, David.
The lawsuit said employees had no established grievance procedure and were ultimately left with no way to report harassment.
Bilzin Sumberg attorney Brian Bilzin, who represents Stuart Miller, said he “does not tolerate any form of sexual harassment or discrimination, either in the workplace or among his household staff.” Household employees were instructed to report any workplace concerns to their direct supervisor, Toni Chayeb, but Santana did not do so, Bilzin said.
The lawsuit said Chayeb was the household staff manager but gave an example of Chayeb following Santana’s orders. It also said Rivera had authority over Santana’s conditions of employment.
Bilzin said Rivera was not Santana’s supervisor and denied he had authority over her conditions of employment.
David P. Bradley of Cole, Scott, & Kissane in West Palm Beach, who also represents Miller, said in a Nov. 16 motion to dismiss that Miller isn’t liable for Rivera’s conduct and wasn’t aware of the complaint to his son.
“It would have been impossible for Mr. Miller … to have retaliated against plaintiff by terminating her because of her alleged complaint of sexual harassment to David Miller,” according to the motion to dismiss.
Rivera’s attorney, Sherril Colombo, a shareholder at Littler Mendelson in Miami, by email denied all of Santana’s allegations but didn’t address specifics in the complaint.
The lawsuit alleged Rivera made daily requests for sexual favors from Santana starting about six months after she was hired.
According to one allegation, “while she was folding laundry, he gestured to his erect penis and told her she was causing him to have an erection,” the complaint said.
Rivera asked Santana several times to have sex with him, grabbed her hand and tried to place it on his erect penis, and pulled out his penis in front of her and asked her “if she liked it or if she thought it was big enough,” according to the complaint.
“On one occasion, while Santana was working a 12-hour shift as a server at a party Miller was hosting at his home, Rivera repeatedly demanded Santana abandon her duties and meet him at his car parked at Miller’s home for sexual intercourse,” the complaint said.
Often, Rivera allegedly required Santana to do work outside the scope of her employment. She was required to shave and groom Rivera’s head almost weekly in a secluded, windowless pool equipment room. At least five times, she was required to shave Rivera’s legs, chest and back. She also shaved David Miller’s back, the complaint said.
The complaint said the harassment lasted for a year until Santana told David Miller in April 2016. The younger Miller assured her he would relay her complaint to his father, but 10 days later she was fired and told her termination had nothing to do with her job performance, according to the complaint.
Santana is seeking back pay, front pay, compensatory and punitive damages and attorney fees.
Bilzin said Santana signed a general release when she was fired, and Miller learned of her allegations for the first time when Santana’s lawyer sent a letter detailing her claims. Bilzin Sumberg investigated and “found no corroborating evidence,” the attorney said.
The lawsuit comes at a time of a nationwide conversation about sexual harassment and abuse as people have come forward to report harassment and abuse by powerful men, from filmmakers and actors to politicians.
“In this highly charged environment where victims now are coming forward, my client, a housekeeper, gets to have her day in court,” Kerr wrote in an email. “The case is very important to my client and others who use her claims as a role model to come out of the shadows and to confront their alleged abusers.”
Bilzin noted the lawsuit ”only makes claims of harassment against Ms. Santana’s former co-worker.”
“Mr. Miller and his property manager, who was the only person to whom Ms. Santana reported, were not told about and had no knowledge of any harassment complaints until after Ms. Santana was no longer employed,” Bilzin said.
Forbes ranks Miller 48th on its executive compensation list at $22.5 million. Miller has voting control of Lennar, the nation’s second-largest homebuilder, which had nearly $11 billion in 2016 revenue.