Some 150 former employees of the Four Seasons Biltmore Resort have filed a lawsuit against the hotel seeking separation pay.
According to a press release from Anticouni & Associates, the law firm representing the employees, they are seeking separation pay from the Ty Warner-owned hotel, contending that its COVID-19 induced furlough that began in March 2020 effectively became a layoff when a corporate decision to remodel the hotel extended the furlough well into 2021.
In a phone call with employees on Nov. 3, Four Seasons executives said they didn’t know when the hotel would reopen, and that it could stay closed until sometime in 2022.
Starting in July, employees became responsible for paying the full cost of their health insurance.
The lawsuit alleges that the furlough period constantly getting extended turned it into a layoff because the initial reason for the furlough is not the same reason for which it has been lengthened.
Biltmore employees were originally told to not come to work because of the pandemic and their employment continued to be cut short when the hotel started undergoing a remodel. The suit argues that the latter is the only reason the Biltmore is keeping employees away from work at this point. As evidence, it mentions that employees at the San Ysidro Ranch Hotel, also owned by Mr. Warner, have returned to work.
Citing the Four Seasons Employee Handbook’s statement of creating a “contract” with its employees as well as saying it provides separation pay when employees are laid off, the lawsuit claims the hotel breached its contract with its employees by not doing the latter.
Examples of possible compensation for employees the release mentions include $16,000 for an employee who has worked for the hotel for 10 years with an average hourly rate of $25 per hour, and $37,500 for an employee who has worked at the hotel for 20 years with an average annual salary of $75,000.
Because the Four Seasons Employee Handbook prohibits class action lawsuits, Anticouni & Associates intends on entering into mediation for each employee it represents, or arbitration if unsuccessful.
As the laid off employees are without employment during an economic recession with no guarantee of being rehired and without medical insurance during a pandemic, Anticouni & Associates founder Bruce Anticounti stated the separation pay will serve as “a life-line to hundreds of former Four Seasons employees during the deep recession which is expected to last until at least 2022.”
In August, hundreds of Biltmore employees marched around Montecito demanding answers from their workplace and Mr. Warner.
“With the situation with COVID, we understand that a lot of businesses were hurt, however, there was very minimal communication between Four Seasons and ownership. We were told at first we were going to open up on April 15, and then kept postponing and for the past couple months, we don’t need to know when the hotel is going to reopen,” said one worker, who asked to remain anonymous.
“So there are about 600 employees that are affected and we haven’t had insurance since the end of June, and for a lot of employees, including me, if we got laid off, we have no assurance that we will receive severance payment.”
The Biltmore did not respond to the News-Press’ request for comment.