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Posted: 3/27/2009 4:26:22 AM EDT
New York Palace Hotel boss Niklaus Leuenberger gets the door after Ash Wednesday slur
BY Kerry Burke AND Oren Yaniv
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITERS

Wednesday, March 25th 2009, 10:00 AM

The manager of one of the city's most luxurious hotels was given the boot after ordering a Catholic employee to clean up his forehead on Ash Wednesday.

"Wipe that f––––-g s––t off your face," managing director Niklaus Leuenberger told a bell captain at the New York Palace Hotel on Feb. 25, sources said.

The unholy ultimatum ended up costing Leuenberger his job at the Palace, a swanky 55-story tower on Madison Ave. across the street from St. Patrick's Cathedral.

"As of Monday, March 23, Leuenberger is no longer employed by the New York Palace," hotel spokeswoman Teresa Delaney told the Daily News Tuesday.

The incident was deemed so severe, Christopher Cowdray, head of the London-based Dorchester Collection, which owns the Palace, flew here to hand Leuenberger the pink slip.

"We take the well-being of our employees extremely seriously and that is why our CEO, Mr. Cowdray, went to New York in person to deal with this matter," the company said.

The object of the manager's insult, bell captain Mike Murray, said the cross of dark ashes was liberally applied to his forehead at his Long Island church.

"My priest did a real number on me," he said with a chuckle.

Catholics receive the ashes as a reminder of their own mortality on Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent, a 40-day period of penance that ends on Easter.

"The [general manager] wanted it off, and he knows he was wrong," added the observant Irish Catholic employee. "I've never been approached on a religious issue [before]."

The 893-room five-star hotel, where a posh suite with city views fetches well over $1,000 a night, combines Renaissance-style architecture with modern design and amenities.

The hotel leases its land from the Catholic Church.

It was the place where Leona Helmsley earned the title "Queen of Mean" in the 1980s when the hotel was called the Helmsley Palace.

Leuenberger was tapped as director in May 2007 after many years at the Peninsula Hotel.

When his appointment was announced, he was touted as "a 35-year veteran of the luxury hospitality industry" who was inducted into the "Hotelier's Hall of Achievement" by Leaders Magazine in 2005.

Reached at his Warren, N.J., home, Leuenberger declined to comment, saying, "I don't know what it's about."

Murray said he does not plan to sue.

"I've been working here for 25 years and I wouldn't want to endanger that," he said.

Link
Link Posted: 3/27/2009 4:36:57 AM EDT
I'm Catholic and I don't like having ash on my face. It always drove me nuts knowing it was there.

Really, you gotta present a non-religious persona if you're going to work in a hotel. I understand why the boss didn't want to see it on an employee, even if he was a complete douche about it.

The incident was deemed so severe, Christopher Cowdray, head of the London-based Dorchester Collection, which owns the Palace, flew here to hand Leuenberger the pink slip.


I bet that left a mark....
Link Posted: 3/27/2009 5:50:26 AM EDT
I like the fact that Cowdray went to the considerable effort and expense to deal with the situation personally.

I firmly believe that the best run companies all have their top management directly involved in their daily activities,
rather than just sit in an office and let all interactions occur via a stack of memos.

But then again...bad managers should just stay in their offices and not interfere with a well-run operation.


CJ
Link Posted: 3/27/2009 6:50:35 AM EDT
It probably has more to do with not pissing off the Catholic Church than anything else.
Link Posted: 3/27/2009 6:52:46 AM EDT
WIN!
Link Posted: 3/27/2009 6:58:15 AM EDT
[Last Edit: 3/27/2009 6:59:28 AM EDT by chapperjoe]
good move.

I think everyone in the city would have realized the guy wasn't dirty, it was Ash Wednesday!

..........plus judging from the way he was 'asked' its clear this guy was a douchebag.

Plus given the hurting hotel market, a feel-good article could be a good move for them.

ETA: this probably had something to do with it too "The hotel leases its land from the Catholic Church."
Link Posted: 3/27/2009 8:03:13 AM EDT
good for them. Its nice to see a company take care of their employees.


Link Posted: 3/27/2009 5:44:37 PM EDT
Originally Posted By chibajoe:
It probably has more to do with not pissing off the Catholic Church than anything else.

Probably not. I have a feeling that if Leuenberger had approached the employee respectfully and said something along the lines of "Would you mind cleaning off your forehead, please? I realize it's Ash Wednesday, but we are trying to present a clean appearance to our clientele." instead of "Wipe that f______ s____ off..." he would not have gotten the axe. Disciplined maybe, but not fired. What he did was a blatant violation of an employee's rights, and downright verbally abusive at that.
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