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Mar-a-Lago chef says harassment complaint cost him his job

FILE - This Nov. 21, 2018, file photo shows President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla. A pastry chef is suing Mar-a-Lago club in Florida, alleging he was laid off in retaliation for trying to stop managers from sexually harassing women in the kitchen. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

A pastry chef is suing President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago club in Florida, alleging he was laid off in retaliation for trying to stop managers from sexually harassing women in the kitchen.

Former executive pastry chef Graham Randall says in the state lawsuit filed last week that he was laid off about six months after complaining to human resources that two top managers were sending lewd texts and engaging in other offensive behavior toward two women pastry chefs. The lawsuit against the Palm Beach club and the managers seeks more than $15,000 in lost wages and damages.

Trump Organization spokeswoman Amanda Miller said the allegations were "completely without merit" and "we look forward to presenting the truth and defeating the ridiculous claims."

Randall said the club told him it couldn't afford to keep him on because too many charities had canceled events after Trump's comments blaming both sides in the 2017 racial violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.

But Randall said business had not suffered, as evidenced by all the special visas requested by the club for foreign workers to fill jobs after he was laid off, including pastry chef jobs.

Randall said he alerted human resources about the behavior after one of the women showed him lewd texts, including one asking her to show a man her breasts.

The lawsuit said the two managers were eventually reprimanded and that they even thanked Randall for saving their careers because he had told human resources that he believed their behavior seemed out of character.

Nonetheless, Randall was laid off in September 2017, a month after Trump's comments about the Charlottesville riots that prompted the American Cancer Society and other major charities to cancel events at the club.

Just how Mar-a-Lago is faring is difficult to know because Trump's company is privately held and financial figures have not been released in any detail.

The club did think it was strong enough to double its membership fees to $200,000 shortly after Trump was elected two years ago. And Mar-a-Lago has been on a hiring spree of foreign workers, as noted in the lawsuit.

An Associated Press review of Labor Department filings shows the club got permission to hire 70 foreign workers on special H-2B visas in the winter months after Randall was laid off. That was up from 64 for 2016-2017 winter season.

For the latest winter season, Mar-a-Lago has requested even more visas — 78. That is the most since Trump launched his presidential campaign on a promise to limit both illegal and legal immigration so Americans could have more jobs.

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The president has said he has no choice but to hire abroad for some positions because there aren't enough America workers to fill them.

On his latest financial disclosure report filed with the government, Trump reported that Mar-a-Lago generated $25 million in revenue in the 2017 calendar year, down from $37 million reported in his prior disclosure report. But the figures are not comparable because the earlier report covered 16 months.

Trump is not required to release estimates for profits in his disclosure reports.

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Condon reported from New York.

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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