A former employee is suing celebrity hot spot 1 Oak over discrimination, claiming he was wrongfully fired after speaking up about the staff’s allegedly racist actions — including requiring higher minimum spending from black and Hispanic clubgoers.
Former manager Christopher Hibbert, who claims to be the first black general manager at the Chelsea nightclub, says he was fired in April after pushing management to ban a particular promoter who had called him the N-word — something the club was not willing to do, according to the Post. In response to his dismissal, Hibbert has now filed a lawsuit at the Manhattan Supreme Court against 1 Oak’s parent companies, as well as owner Richie Akiva. The suit alleges a series of racist incidents occurred during the three years he worked there.
According to the Post, Hibbert claims that in December, he and a promoter named Steven Badias got into a heated argument that ended with racial slurs: At one point, Badias allegedly bumped his chest against Hibbert’s and called him the N-word, followed by “What are you going to do about it?”
Hibbert, who had worked at 1 Oak since 2016, alleges that the company suspended Badias for a week and required him to attend “sensitivity training,” and was allowed to return to the club soon after. Hibbert was asked by Akiva to give the promoter a “second chance,” as he was an important asset for the club, the Post reports.
But when Hibbert pushed back against it, as well as other racist behavior he had witnessed, he was eventually let go in retaliation, he claims in the suit.
In a statement sent to Eater, Akiva states that as a company, 1 Oak doesn’t customarily comment on legal issues. “However, we feel compelled to comment on these false accusations which have been brought by a disgruntled former employee,” he states. “We believe the employee was justifiably terminated after multiple written and verbal warnings regarding their job performance.”
Akiva also says he’s hurt that someone is questioning his motives. He added, “If I let someone go, it’s based on their work ethic or lack of performance. Period point blank.” See his statement in full below.
But Hibbert’s lawsuit shines light on other alleged incidents, too. For instance, another manager allegedly once told a black server she couldn’t wear her hair in its natural state, forcing her to wear straight hair extensions, the Post reports. He also claims in the suit that the venue routinely turns away black and Hispanic people at the door, and when they’re let in, they’re allegedly given higher spending minimums and seated in less desirable tables within the club.
It’s not the first time 1 Oak has experienced trouble with racist allegations. In 2008, four minority employees sued former owner Scott Sartiano, claiming that they were fired because Sartiano only wanted “white girls he could f---” serving drinks. And in 2016, YouTube personality Essie Michelle recorded a video alleging that she too was denied entry because of her dark skin color.
Here is Akiva’s statement in full:
As a company, we never comment on legal issues, however, we feel compelled to comment on these false accusations which have been brought by a disgruntled former employee. We believe the employee was justifiably terminated after multiple written and verbal warnings regarding their job performance. We are confident that the full truth will be brought to light during litigation and believe that we will prevail. At 1 OAK, we pride ourselves on welcoming those of all legal age, race, gender, religion, sexual orientation and national identity as both guests and employees.
Personally, this is so far away from my spirit or how I live my life. I hire based on skill set, morals, standards and my connection with them. If I let someone go, it’s based on their work ethic or lack of performance. Period point blank. This is how I’ve always operated my businesses and how I will continue to operate. It’s hurtful someone would question that.