Tuesday, November 22, 2011
Jewish billionaire Len Blavatnik sued by maid after she was 'refused job because of her nationality'
A London-based Russian billionaire is being sued by two of his former maids for alleged racial discrimination.
Staff working for Len Blavatnik at his New York mansion are said to have told the women they were not wanted because of their ethnicity.
When one of them sent an email to the oil tycoon’s butler at the property, the butler is said to have replied: ‘Sorry new directions . . . No Philippine since today.
The case will be heard in the federal court in the U.S. which puts more pressure on Blavatnik than a discrimination tribunal, which is where it was being handled.
Either way it will be hugely embarrassing for him as he could be asked to give evidence. He faces an unlimited fine if he loses.
Blavatnik, 54, has a personal fortune of £6.08billion, making him the 80th richest person in the
Known for valuing his privacy, he is based in London and lives in a £41m house in Kensington Palace Gardens which he outbid Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich for.
The lawsuit filed in federal court in New York names him as a defendant along with his wife Emily, their butler Wilfredo Balmaceda and EB Household, the company through which they manage and pay their help.
Former maid Virginia Lim claims she went for an interview and a try out at the Blavatnik household after which Mr Balmaceda said he ‘liked her’.
But when she heard nothing back and followed up with an email Mr Balmaceda is said to have told her he had ‘received instructions not to hire’ Miss Lim ‘because of her national origin’.
The court papers claim that Mr Balmaceda emailed back: ‘Sorry new directions . . . No Philippine since today.
Miss Lim’s move comes after another maid, Esther Winkley, also took her case for racial discrimination to federal court.
Her claim is similar and relates to the same email.
Both women had earlier filed claims with the Commission on Human Rights and the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission as required by federal law, but have now escalated their action.
Whilst now one of the world’s most wealthy men, Blavatnik started out in a position not far from those of those he is now accused of discriminating against.
Born in Moscow he is said to have arrived in America with nothing before founding his investment and industrial group Access Industries.
He made his fortune in post-Communist Russia in natural resources has since created the oil giant TNK-BP by merging British petrol firm BP with its Russian counterpart TNK.
Earlier this year Blavatnik staked one third of his fortune on a £2.1billion deal to buy Warner Music, which raised eyebrows in The City but has so far proved to be a shrewder investment than expected.
Access Industries now also owns stakes in three British media companies.
In recent years Blavatnik has begun to take more of an interest in philanthropy and has given £75million to Oxford University for a new School of Government, one of the biggest donations it has ever received.
Marjorie Mesidor, the lawyer for Miss Lim, said that the lawsuit was in order to seek ‘some level of resolution for the injustice that has been done’ to her ‘emotionally distressed client.
Blavatnik’s spokesman Michael Sitrick said he was confident the lawsuit would be dismissed.
He said: ‘The Blavatnik household employs and has employed people of multiple national origins including individuals from the Philippines.