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The Steinberg Conference Center describes itself as a world-class facility for Wharton's Executive Education program — but multiple current and former employees of the center allege they faced mistreatment and an abusive workplace environment. 

The Center, located at the intersection of 38th and Spruce streets, houses Wharton Executive Education and offers a full-service hotel and dining room for participants to utilize during their programs at Wharton. The Daily Pennsylvanian spoke with former and current hotel employees at the Steinberg Conference Center who alleged their complaints of a toxic workplace have gone unaddressed due to their superior's apparent marriage to a top Penn administrator. 

The employees told the DP they have filed multiple complaints to Penn’s Division of Human Resources, the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Teamsters Local 115, which represents many of the conference center employees, and Aramark, which supplies management for the conference center. All employees said that nothing has come of their complaints and that none of their concerns have been addressed.

The DP obtained the employees’ complaints, emails between employees and Penn HR staff, and disciplinary notices filed against employees by their managers. All five employees that the DP spoke with alleged mismanagement, mistreatment, and harassment at the hands of their superior at the conference center, who they identified as Yanire Shafi. 

Shafi, who is a housekeeping supervisor at the conference center, is the wife of Jalil Shafi, the director of Human Resources in the Office of the Provost, according to employees. All of the employees and ex-employees cited this relationship as an explanation for why action has not been taken against Yanire Shafi.

A Wharton spokesperson declined to comment. Jalil Shafi did not respond to request for comment, while a request for comment from Yanire Shafi was redirected to her manager, Faramarz Vakili, the executive director of operations and maintenance in Penn's Facilities and Real Estate Services division.

“We cannot discuss individual employee issues," Vakili wrote. "Penn employees with concerns have many different resources to assist them. One resource that employees can contact is the Division of Human Resources Staff and Labor Relations to share their concerns."

Ties to a Penn human resources administrator

Yanire Shafi was first hired by the conference center in the early 2000s as a business administrator but transferred to housekeeping as early as 2007, according to one employee. She then became a housekeeping manager around 2011 but then left in 2015. Yanire Shafi was then rehired in the spring of 2022, which is when the allegations of abuse began.

A current housekeeper at the Center, who was granted anonymity due to fear of retaliation, told the DP that they witnessed Yanire Shafi giving certain employees harder workloads and changing their schedules when they complained about their mistreatment.

The employee said that Yanire Shafi was forced out by the Teamsters union for mistreatment when she first left the conference center, but she was rehired later. Teamsters did not respond to request for comment.

“Everybody wonders how she came back," the employee said. "It’s still a puzzle."

The employee added that Yanire Shafi has multiple employees who report back information about their colleagues to her.

“She’s very dismissive of anything you say,” the employee said. 

The employee added they witnessed Yanire Shafi increasing other employees' workloads and issuing disciplinary notices over small disputes that normally would not merit them. She also said Yanire Shafi forced out Ruthenia Thompson, a conference center employee of 26 years who now works in Huntsman Hall.

Because this employee said that she has not directly been affected by Yanire Shafi’s actions, she has not filed a complaint with Penn or Aramark, but she has submitted an anonymous complaint to the Teamsters 115 Local Union.

“We are not slaves,” the employee said. “I feel like [Yanire Shafi] is treating us like some slaves there.” 

The employee alleged that the reason Yanire Shafi is still employed by Penn is because her husband is a senior HR administrator.

“Her husband is a director at Penn, so that’s the only way she could be doing these things,” they said. “There’s no way else that she could be mistreating people like this and get away with it.”

Another current employee, who was also granted anonymity for fear of retaliation, said that Yanire Shafi cultivates an unprofessional work environment and creates stress in the workplace.

“When she came back, it was even worse than it was the first time she was there. She’s very unprofessional, and she doesn’t relay proper information to the staff,” the employee said. “It’s just nonsensical, and it’s becoming stressful.”

The employee said that Yanire Shafi is also unwilling to listen to the employees.

“When we try to relay that to her what’s best for our job, she doesn’t want to hear that,” the employee said.

Forcing out a 26-year employee

Since being hired in spring 2022, the employee further alleged that Yanire Shafi has caused three employees to either transfer or leave the conference center.

Thompson, the former conference center employee and current Huntsman Hall employee, served as a laundry worker at the conference center, and told the DP that she has had multiple encounters with Yanire Shafi. Thompson worked at the conference center from November 1997 to January 2023.

Thompson alleged that Yanire Shafi gave her disciplinary notices multiple times after speaking up to her about how the supervisor gave certain workers preferential treatment and gossiped about them. She also alleged that Yanire Shafi gave her disciplinary notices when she pointed out that other laundry workers were on their phones during their shifts.

Thompson also said she noticed her workload began to increase when she began to report Yanire Shafi’s actions to Penn HR. She added that near the end of her time at the conference center this January, Yanire Shafi would send people to inspect the rooms Thompson had recently cleaned, which led to a disciplinary notice that prompted her transfer to Huntsman Hall.

The notice filed against Thompson by Yanire Shafi on Jan. 18 alleges that Thompson failed to set the thermostat at the correct temperature, did not properly center a pillow, left a window slightly ajar, and did not clean dust on the top edge of the TV. 

The report states that Thompson’s cleaning was a “failure to meet Steinberg’s basic cleaning standards.”

After the form was filed, Thompson was suspended without pay on Jan. 26, and she did not return to work until Feb. 9 — when she said she was transferred to Huntsman Hall under an arrangement with Penn HR. 

Thompson said that she almost never received disciplinary notices before Yanire Shafi started working there in May 2022. She mentioned that her last “real” write-up was in 2007 or 2008. 

However, in the last year of her employment at the Steinberg Conference Center, once Yanire Shafi began working there, she received six distinct disciplinary notices.

Thompson said she first contacted Aramark and James Bean, Penn’s Facilities and Real Estate Services’ director of labor relations, in June 2022 about these issues and received no response from either party.

She then contacted Jeffrey Rowland, Penn’s Human Resources executive director for staff and labor relations on July 25, 2022, and did not receive a call back after leaving a message.

Thompson then contacted Penn's Staff and Labor Relations office and was transferred to Penn’s Employee Solution Center. After speaking with multiple representatives, she was told that her concerns would be brought back to Staff and Labor Relations.

Thompson said that she did talk to senior staff relations specialist Andrea Boozer, who spoke with her about her concerns on Aug. 22, 2022 and said she would speak to Bean. It is unclear if Bean addressed the concerns. 

During the same summer, Thompson also called Teamsters Local 115 multiple times about the issues but said that her grievances against the disciplinary notices she received from Yanire Shafi were never resolved.

A 'hostile work environment'

Former conference center custodian Jessica Curry started working at the conference center in 2018 and resigned on Oct. 4. She told the DP that Yanire Shafi created a hostile work environment and abused the employees.

“She pretty much made it a hostile work environment, she pretty much abused the workers,” Curry said. “Abused as in overworked, unfair treatment, completely disregarded the union that everybody is a part of.”

For example, Curry said that after attending social events at which she did not feel comfortable interacting with Yanire Shafi, she began declining such invitations, after which she said Yanire Shafi's behavior worsened. 

In a complaint written by Curry that summarizes her grievances, she listed all the times when she experienced Yanire Shafi’s behavior.

On Oct. 5, Curry called the Penn Employee Solution Center alleging that Yanire Shafi showed favoritism to an employee by allowing them to make inappropriate comments about Curry's physical appearance and verbally harass Curry on June 17, calling her “you American" in front of another manager who did not intervene. 

On June 22, after Curry spoke with Yanire Shafi about the employee's actions, Yanrie Shafi said that the other manager denied the employee's actions ever took place and that there is nothing she can do.

Curry also said that on Aug. 7, Yanire Shafi reduced the number of laundry workers from four to three, tripling Curry's workload.

After bringing up these workload issues to Yanire Shafi on Sept. 28, Yanire Shafi dismissed the issues and threatened to take disciplinary action if Curry could not handle the work.

On Oct. 4, Curry resigned after Yanire Shafi threatened to write her another disciplinary notice for allegedly taking an unauthorized break in the laundry room, but Curry said that all the laundry machines were running, so she had no work to do at the time. 

Curry contacted the Penn Employee Solution Center and read off the allegations from her complaint, but never heard back after being told by an agent that someone would be in touch with her. Curry had a phone interview with them on Sept. 29, but they also did not respond. Curry described all the incidents except for one in the document to the EEOC. 

Lack of response to complaints

Curry spoke to a union representative at Teamsters Local 115, but she said that nothing came of the conversation.

Curry said she filed a charge of employment discrimination with the EEOC on July 17 and she spoke with EEOC representatives on the phone on Sept. 29 but nothing came of the call. She said she also reported Yanire Shafi to Aramark on July 17 but said nothing came of this either.

“The only time the union show[s] up is when Yani is disciplining somebody for something,” Curry said.

Former Steinberg Conference Center employee Yalonda Davis, who worked as a laundry custodian and attendant, began working there in February 2019 and left on Nov. 5.

Davis sent a wide-ranging complaint to Penn Employee Solutions about Yanire Shafi’s alleged acts of mistreatment toward her. These included a five-day suspension for Davis after she did not tell a manager that she left early one day after finishing her work, which Davis said was standard practice. She also said she received a disciplinary notice for allegedly sitting around and not doing work, but she said that this would not normally incur disciplinary action.

Davis said that nothing came of this complaint, which was forwarded to Aramark, who told her someone else would follow up and the case was closed.

She said she also sent this complaint to the EEOC.

Davis also sent a grievance to Teamsters Local 115, who elevated the grievance to Penn’s Labor Relations. James Bean, Director of Labor Relations, said the grievance was without merit and was denied.

The EEOC and Aramark said that they cannot comment on individual charges or employee matters. 

"We are prohibited by federal law from commenting on charges (complaints/claims) or even confirming or denying the existence of a charge," the EEOC wrote. "Any written materials or decisions that may result from a charge or any resulting investigation are also confidential by law."

Aramark said that it values feedback and treats "all associates with integrity and respect," encouraging employees with concerns to use the company's anonymous hotline.

Curry said that when people report anything through Penn about Yanire Shafi, "it has to go through her husband."