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“It never got better”: Fairmont St Andrews overlooks workplace harassment, employees say

A former Fairmont St Andrews senior catering employee said a student was a “black bitch” who needed to “go back to where” she “came from.” Older male clients grabbed female employees' thighs and invited them to their rooms. A high-ranking hotel manager joked that a student should “sit on his lap” to keep him warm in a chilly room.


Employees say the resort failed to support them when they reported the incidents.


A toxic work culture at Fairmont St Andrews, a five-star golf resort along Fife’s eastern coastal cliffs, has pushed some employees to quit a popular student workplace they say failed to support them after staff and clients bullied and sexually harassed them, according to an investigation by The Saint based on interviews, emails, and text messages.



Fairmont St Andrews declined to comment on specific employees’ accounts. A spokesperson noted that “the wellbeing of colleagues'' is “important” to the resort and among the “founding principles” of its corporate responsibility charter.


“Fairmont St Andrews strives to create an environment that is safe and secure, free from any form of harassment or discrimination,” the spokesperson said. “We continue to make every reasonable effort to ensure that no colleague, male or female, experiences this.”


The Saint investigation glimpses into a broader trend of workplaces overlooking sexual harassment that women have long claimed the St Andrews hospitality industry evades. 


Nearly half of women in Scotland have experienced sexual harassment at work, with 85 per cent saying they didn’t think workplaces would appropriately handle the incidents if they reported them, according to a 2022 Scottish Trades Union Congress report. In 2017, The Saint conducted an investigation that found sexual harassment was prevalent and often dismissed in St Andrews workplaces.


Recent interviews with over 20 students and residents suggest at least six different St Andrews employers continue to fail to hold men who make unwanted sexual advances towards women to account. 


Many have worked at Fairmont St Andrews over the past three years, according to testimonies and evidence provided by 12 former and current employees.  


Seven Fairmont St Andrews employees said senior members of food and beverage services bullied or sexually harassed them or their co-workers. Third-year student Aheelyn Dayana Galan Nunez said a very senior hotel manager teased her to “sit on his lap” to keep him warm in an air-conditioned room towards the end of her time at the resort between May 2021 and September 2022. When Nunez tried to report the incident, she said her then-supervisor said he doubted it was worth the effort. 


Other Fairmont St Andrews employees said older male clients made unwelcome sexual advances toward them in departments that included housekeeping, food and beverage services, and conferences and banqueting. 


“You're serving them and [the clients] grab you here,” said a student employee from November 2021 to December 2022 named Veronika, pointing to her lower thigh. “Which is not a place you grab a person, especially one holding your food.”


When seven employees reported harassment, they said Fairmont St Andrews’ response was slow or non-existent. One third-year student who started at the resort in 2022 said a male manager often brushed off reports as “women being dramatic.”


A Fairmont St Andrews spokesperson said that the resort “has very clear policies and procedures in place, which are given to all employees when they join,” adding that “colleagues are encouraged to report anything they feel should be shared with” its talent and culture team.


But many Fairmont St Andrews employees said they kept from reporting harassment because they felt the resort hadn’t taught them how to issue complaints or would ignore them.


“You could report things all you wanted,” said Veronika. “But if a guy touched your ass or something while you're working — they’re not going to do anything.”


One third-year student who worked on the conferences and banqueting team from September 2021 to March 2023 said a male client asked if she wanted to see his genitals at a Fairmont St Andrews event. She said she initially wanted to report the incident but changed her mind after one of her co-workers told her that the resort wouldn’t care. Fairmont St Andrews failed to share reporting guidelines with the third-year student the first year and a half of her employment, she said.


“I was trained on bringing food out. I was trained on serving tables,” Nunez added. “I was never trained on ‘if something happens, you can come to us’.”


Fairmont St Andrews employees who didn’t quit pointed to the scarcity of jobs in St Andrews and the normalisation of harassment in the hospitality industry. Others noted that the resort offers employees generous perks, including competitive pay and discounted hotel stays and spa treatments. Three current employees reported largely positive experiences at the resort.


“This wasn’t the first time”


Some employees said the resort stalled to respond after they filed up to sixteen complaints about senior staff. Fairmont St Andrews’ lacklustre support system allegedly pushed some to quit.


Nunez said she was among a group of employees who spent months in 2022 reporting a senior catering employee at a Fairmont St Andrews restaurant called St Andrews Bay Clubhouse & Grill. The third-year student said the male Clubhouse employee often targeted her in racist comments to her co-workers, shouted at her when she was alone, and made homophobic jabs toward another staff member. 


“He’s very clearly said a few times before that you're just a ‘black bitch’ and you need to ‘go back to where you came from’,” Nunez, who identifies as Spanish Venezuelan, said.


Meanwhile, the senior catering employee insisted that an eighteen-year-old student go on a secret date with him, according to messages and emails reviewed by The Saint. The student routinely declined the higher-ranking male staff member’s offers and sent multiple screenshots of the messages to management.


Nunez said she and other co-workers flagged the senior catering employee’s behaviour in emails to the staff member's supervisor and other members of management. The resort told them it was aware of the reports and that it would launch an investigation, she said.


“His manager was pals with him, so it's not like he was going to do anything,” Nunez said. “This wasn’t the first time we’d reported this. We knew [the investigation] was going to lead nowhere.”


Nunez took matters into her own hands. She said she detailed the abuse in an email to managers that she copied her co-workers in. “That’s when they actually took it seriously” and immediately suspended the senior catering employee, Nunez said.


A week later, management called in the senior catering employee to fire him and security staff escorted him from the resort premises, according to Nunez.


That instance of the resort holding a staff member to account was an exception, Nunez said. “The Fairmont doesn’t tend to fire people,” she said.


The “cherry on top” of the slew of incidents that Nunez said finally pushed her to quit was when one of the highest-ranking managers she had emailed to report the catering employee later joked that she should sit on his lap.


A St Andrews alumnus, named Nico, who worked in the hotel’s housekeeping division from 2021 to 2023 said the resort was also slow to respond to multiple reports he and other co-workers submitted about a former housekeeping manager.


In what Nico described as one of many similar incidents, he said the senior staff member initiated a drinking game at a resort bar with underaged female colleagues before sharing detailed stories about his sexual escapades. “It was honestly disgusting,” Nico said. 


The resort eventually fired the manager in a process Nico said took “far too long.”


Employees also described a toxic culture at La Cucina, the resort’s Italian eatery, and a bar called Kittocks Den.


A student employee from October 2022 to May 2023 said a manager at La Cucina often bantered about a supervisor’s tendency to make sexual advances towards a female co-worker. When the same supervisor worked at Kittocks Den, he inappropriately touched a different female staff member, she said.


“The supervisors were having an absolute power trip — it was just really upsetting working there,” the student employee said. 


Another employee said she was one of several female employees two former La Cucina managers made sexual advances toward — even after the women signalled that they wanted them to stop. She said one of the managers often cornered her to make sexual advances and “inappropriate” comments and messaged to ask her out on dates.


“I used to be super super nervous going to work because they were just horrible,” the La Cucina employee said.


The student said the resort failed to take follow-up action when they reported the two senior staff members. “Nothing came of it,” she said. “It never got better, they just both happened to leave.”


Veronika said the resort also failed to respond after she filed multiple complaints in 2022 about higher-ranking staff members, including two assistant managers in a Fairmont St Andrews department she did not name. “They would always talk about me and my friends and our bodies,” she said.


In September 2022, the same managers exclusively hired women — often only those they found attractive — Veronika said.


A Fairmont St Andrews spokesperson said that “all hiring decisions are made exclusively on professional skills and personal qualities.”


Towards the end of 2022, Veronika was fed up. She said she submitted a letter of resignation detailing how the resort had failed her and female co-workers, including on occasions she said she didn’t share with The Saint. The resort scrambled to respond to Veronika’s letter and organise follow-up meetings, leaving her with three emails, and six missed calls.


In meetings that followed, Veronika said managers spent hours prying into her experience at the resort. “Nothing came of it,” she said. “I spent hours of my life in that room. Other girls did as well.”


‘They’ll tell you to laugh it off’


Employees allege the resort ignored or failed to address male clients’ unwanted sexual advances. Some suggest harassment became so normalised they didn’t bother reporting it at all. 


Nunez was a few months into her stint at the Clubhouse restaurant in the summer of 2021 when she asked an older male client to insert his card into a reader. He responded, suggestively, that he would “like to put something else in,” she said. 


Nunez said she told her manager about the comment — and that he dismissed it.


“Harassment from clients never gets dealt with,” Nunez said. “Even if you say it — they’ll just tell you to laugh it off.”


A third-year student and former employee who joined the resort in 2022 said clients often suggestively gave female employees their hotel room numbers and made inappropriate sexual advances — many of which they often reported without any follow-up.


Veronika recalled an incident when she and other employees reported that a guest — who she described as an “old college pal of one of the high-up directors” — inappropriately touched female staff at the resort's bar. 


“He was full-on groping a few of the waiters,” Veronika said. “Nothing happened.”


With time, Veronika said she grew accustomed to the harassment. “You kind of get a thick skin when it comes to the clients because it happens so much,” she said.


‘I don’t know whose door I’d be knocking on’


Fairmont St Andrews said it has clear guidelines in place for employees to report harassment. Many said those instructions were either opaque or never mentioned at all.


“They never really followed up on it,” said the third-year student who said she didn’t complete any training with the resort for the first year and a half of her employment from September 2021 to March 2023.


One current employee who said she attended two days of four to five-hour training sessions before starting at the resort in 2023 said staff told them to walk away from clients who made them uncomfortable and report them to management.


Yet, after completing the training, the employee said they still didn't know who could support them if they had to issue a complaint. “I don’t know whose door I’d be knocking on,” they said. 


Another former student employee who attended the training in September 2022 said the resort taught employees how to pacify rude customers — but failed to teach them how to cope with the emotional tax uncomfortable workplace situations might cause.


“What do you do in that situation? They never covered that,” the employee said. “The focus was always on the customer. You never felt like you were an individual.”


Third-year student Shizuka Seko, who was a La Cucina employee from 2022 to 2023, said she quit when she didn’t know who to speak to about a manager who cornered her and mocked her name. “I couldn't bear it,” she said. “I didn’t know who to talk to because it’s a really big hotel.”


Some employees suggested the resort needs a management overhaul. Others said it should designate a female staff member for women to speak to about harassment.


“Don't get me wrong, the Fairmont does have some great staff,” Nunez said. “If I knew there was some management change, I would consider going back.”


Employees largely agreed on one takeaway: It is paramount to safeguard employees in a workplace that hires young women, a demographic group often most vulnerable to harassment.


“I went through so much more than I need to for a minimum paying wage,” a former employee said. “I don’t want first-years to find themselves in this position.”


The Saint strives to protect its sources. Several Fairmont St Andrews employees have been granted anonymity to respect sensitive personal information and/or protect their jobs.


This article is part of an ongoing investigation into workplace harassment across the St Andrews hospitality industry. Send tips or share your story with Zainab and Charles at investigations@thesaint.scot



Image: YourGolfTravel. Image license here.

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