Mary Louise Starkey, whose butler bootcamp inside a Capitol Hill mansion has taught graduates how to properly pamper the wealthy for decades, was sued last week by a woman who claims her $100,000-a-year butleress was not properly vetted.
The lawsuit is the second in recent years to accuse a sister company of the Starkey International Institute for Household Management of failing to vet. In the other, a Starkey butler drank a client’s liquor, crashed the client’s car and locked himself in a room for days.
Naomi Slusher, of North Carolina, said in a lawsuit May 5 that she hired Starkey & Associates in late 2021 to find what Mary Starkey calls “a household manager” for Slusher’s home. The household manager was to care for the house as well as Slusher’s four children.
After several months, Starkey & Associates recommended a butler for $100,000 a year — $31,000 of which would go to Starkey & Associates as a finder’s fee — but Slusher fired him after two months and told Starkey to find someone better, according to the lawsuit.
Starkey & Associates recommended another housekeeper and handed Slusher a background check on the candidate. Slusher alleges that check “was useless and inaccurate” because the butleress’ “history in fact contained prior criminal issues.” Slusher said a Google search and a second background check found a conviction for driving under the influence.
Slusher alleges that Starkey, 74, and her company initially denied but later admitted knowing about the butleress’ prior conviction. When Slusher then asked for a refund of her $31,000, Starkey refused to return the money, according to the lawsuit.
Reached by phone Monday, Starkey initially declined to comment and said a lawyer would call BusinessDen on her behalf. A lawyer for Starkey did not contact BusinessDen.
“When you create a business that no one ever has done, people love bringing you down, especially as a woman,” Starkey then wrote in a series of combative emails to BusinessDen on Tuesday. “I’ve paid dearly to be a successful entrepreneur.”
In another email, Starkey’s husband, Xavier Medecin, called the Slusher lawsuit a “nuisance suit.” Medecin is the director of education at the Starkey International Institute.
The Starkey Institute was founded in 1981 and operates out of the 13,000-square-foot Starkey Mansion at 1350 N. Logan St., which is also a lodging and event space. The school calls itself “the Harvard of private service education” and Starkey “the First Lady of Service.” Starkey & Associates is the job placement arm of the institute.
In 2019, Starkey & Associates was sued in a Denver court by Ian Rollo, whose 8,200-square-foot home in Arizona had been managed by a Starkey butler. During his first week on the job, that butler drunkenly crashed Rollo’s Mercedes, according to the lawsuit.
When Rollo asked Starkey & Associates to recommend a different butler, the company suggested two inadequate people. So, Rollo rehired the first man, who then locked himself in a room at Rollo’s house and spent three days drunk until he was fired, according to Rollo.
In responding to the Rollo lawsuit, Starkey & Associates said Mary Starkey told Rollo about the butler’s drinking problem in advance. It denied providing inadequate butler candidates and denied owing Rollo a refund. The case was settled out of court in late 2019.
Starkey, who was once described by Forbes as “the kind of stern headmistress you see in old boarding school movies,” was arrested following two incidents in 2007 and 2008. In the first case, she pleaded guilty to assault and paid $10,200 to her victim, a student at the institute. In the second case, a charge of assaulting her ex-husband was dropped.
The student also sued Starkey and the Starkey Institute in early 2008 for assault, battery and outrageous conduct. That case was settled out of court before a mid-2009 trial.
“These two-plus years have been very difficult,” Starkey wrote in a 2009 press release.
“In spite of what occurred with this student, I remain committed to our graduates and our clients. Again, I am grateful that this is behind me now and focusing on the present,” she said then, adding that her companies have “discerning clients who expect the best of the best.”