Big Sur’s alternative wellness resort is being hit with more accusations of racism after an anonymous employee alleged the institution exploited her labor.
A West Coast retreat that markets itself as a “holistic retreat and educational institution” came under fire in May after a Black female guest accused the fancy retreat of being racist.
Now, a company employee has spoken out anonymously, saying their labor was exploited and that “white individuals with less time and less experience were promoted above me.”
The Esalen Institute – a tranquil oasis in California’s Big Sur – is a popular escape for the rich and famous. Accommodation ranges from a ‘sleeping bag room’, which costs $900 for four nights, to private suites costing $8,000.
The employee said: ‘Finally I thought, ‘What’s going on here?’ It was disturbing that I wasn’t offered a promotion, disturbing that white people were being promoted over me.”
An employee of the Esalen Institute has spoken out anonymously saying their labor was being exploited, claiming that “white individuals with less time and less experience were promoted above me.”
The retreat inspired the final scenes of the hit show Mad Men, in which troubled antihero Don Draper joined a hippie community overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
According to SFGATEwho spoke to the employee who made the allegations, worked for the Esalen Institute on and off for ten years and received room and board at the luxury retreat along with their salaries.
Esalen Institute’s Direct of Operations told SFGATE reporters that Esalen goes “far and above any organization” when it comes to complying with state and federal civil rights and discrimination laws.
The employee feared reprisals for speaking out publicly. They said in an email that it was “infuriating, to say the least, that she was quoted saying that when it comes to tracking state and federal civil rights and discrimination, the Esalen Institute is “far above any organization.”
They said: ‘I had brought these issues to her attention several times, and I was outraged the entire time.’
TheDailyMail.com has contacted the Esalen Institute by phone and email for comment on the allegations they are facing, but the company has not yet responded.
According to the employee, Nicole Evans’ lawsuit has led the institute to take her claims more seriously.
Nicole Evans of Los Angeles claims instructor Lorin Roche showed a video of a black comedian joking that “Irish people were the n*****s of Europe.”
Evans is seeking at least $1 million in damages over the alleged incident, which the lawsuit describes as “one of the most humiliating and traumatizing experiences of her life.” She claims the California retreat and its employees violated her civil rights.
Evans completed a medication course led by Roche on September 7, 2022, halfway through her four-night stay. He is said to have played a YouTube video of the comedy routine which attendees initially found funny, but “the room went deafeningly silent” when the n-word was used in a joke about the Irish people.
Roche, who the lawsuit calls “a faculty member with decades of employment at the institute,” and several other attendees looked directly at Evans, the only black person present, as the clip was shown.
The employee worked for the Esalen Institute on and off for ten years and received room and board at the luxury retreat along with his salary
Evans’ lawsuit alleges that Lorin Roche (pictured) played the offending clip during a meditation class, which Evans described as “one of the most humiliating and traumatizing experiences of her life”
The instructor then rewound the clip and replayed the joke, causing some people to walk out of the class and leaving Evans “completely confused, shocked and overwhelmed with emotion,” it is claimed.
The clip was believed to be of Reginald D Hunter, an American stand-up comedian from Georgia, based in Britain. A video from one of Hunter’s stand-up shows, uploaded to YouTube in 2011, shows him making the same joke during a routine about the time he spent in Ireland.
Evans’ lawsuit, reported by the LA Times, says she felt paralyzed after the incident and didn’t know what to do. She felt like a fish in a fishbowl and everyone was looking at her, which made her feel unsafe.”
She chose to stay at the retreat, but news spread about the incident and she was asked about it by other attendees, making her feel uncomfortable.
Evans was supposed to attend another class at Roche the next day, but decided not to. Roche’s wife, Camille Maurine, who also works at the Esalen Institute, then urged Evans to attend the class to talk to him about the issue.
Roche acted as if “nothing was wrong” and did not apologize, the suit alleges.
He also told another person at the retreat who confronted him: “I’m sorry that you regular people don’t understand the brilliance of the video.”
Evans left the class ‘humiliated and furious’.
Roche only issued a “forced” apology later that day after his wife invited Evans to meet a director of the institute. Evans claims the director said “he was sorry this happened to her.”
A popular escape for the rich and famous, the Esalen Institute bills itself as a ‘holistic retreat and educational institution’. Accommodation ranges from a ‘sleeping bag room’, which costs $900 for four nights, to private suites which cost $8,000
Roche and his wife Camille Maurine, who is also a faculty member at the Esalen Institue
The lawsuit stated: “As a result of Defendants’ actions, Plaintiff has suffered and will continue to suffer general and special damages, including severe and profound pain and emotional distress, anxiety, depression, headaches, tension and other physical ailments, as well as medical costs and costs for psychological guidance and treatment.’
The lawsuit was filed in December and the trial was scheduled to begin on Tuesday, May 2, 2023. The Esalen Institute was contacted for comment.
It claims the institute failed to take appropriate disciplinary action against Roche and accuses him of a history of “discriminatory and intolerant behavior.”
The Esalen Institute was founded in 1962 and established itself as a leader in the New Age movement. The institute offers a range of classes and workshops, ranging from mindfulness and yoga to writing and dance.
The retreat’s website encourages guests to ‘explore your potential’ and says: ‘Esalen is a holistic retreat and educational institution.
‘Founded in 1962 and considered the epicenter of the Human Potential Movement, we are a nonprofit organization providing comfort and space for exploration, transformation and healing in the wilderness of Big Sur’s majestic mountain landscape and glittering coastline.
‘Our curiosity and research explore new ideas around creativity and the brain, bodywork, spirituality, leadership, Gestalt, plant medicine, citizen diplomacy, superhumanism, the survival of physical death, extraterrestrial intelligence and more.’