Furloughed employees from the Four Seasons Biltmore Resort will virtually convene with top hotel executives for a mediation meeting at the end of April, taking the next step in an ongoing legal battle with their former employer.
About 275 employees from the Montecito resort are pursuing legal action against the Four Seasons, claiming the resort owes them millions of dollars in severance compensation.
The hotel, which has been closed since March 20, 2020, furloughed hundreds of its employees at the start of the pandemic and has since announced that it will not be taking reservations through 2022, leaving hundreds of its employees out of work. Under current COVID-19 restrictions, leisure travel is permitted and hotels can reopen and welcome guests.
The legal problem with this, according to the employee’s representative attorney Bruce Anticouni, has to do with federal and state definitions of furlough.
In a memorandum, Mr. Anticouni wrote, “furlough is defined as a temporary loss of employment when employees return to work within six months.” According to the Department of Labor and the California Labor Code, a furlough extended beyond six months is considered a termination of employment.
“The difference between a furlough and a termination of employment affects Four Season’s obligation to pay its former employees millions of dollars in severance compensation,” Mr. Anticouni said in a statement. “Four Seasons is contractually obligated to compensate its former employees substantial Separation Pay when their employment has come to an end.”
The statement continued, “Assuming the hotel opens on January 1, 2023, the employees would be out-of-work for at least 33 months. Because the layoff has now extended for more than 13 months, our clients are entitled to Separation Pay.”
Back in August, hundreds of employees gathered in protest regarding the Montecito resort closure, marching to resort owner Ty Warner’s house in demand of answers about when the hotel would reopen. However, just days after the protest, the Four Seasons posted on its social media accounts that the hotel would remain closed until further notice.
While legal matters pertaining to separation pay would typically come with a lawsuit attached, the Four Seasons has a policy that prohibits court action. Therefore, a mediation meeting is the next step in the legal pursuit, Mr. Anticouni said.
Furloughed employees represented by Mr. Anticouni will meet with Four Seasons executives and Mr. Warner’s attorneys for a conversation with Ventura-based mediation expert Jeffrey Krivis on April 30 via Zoom. Through this meeting, Mr. Anticouni is hopeful his clients will receive the severance pay he claims they are legally entitled to.
“Our hope is to provide some money for the people who are really struggling,” Mr. Anticouni told the News-Press. “Some people have moved on, some remain unemployed. The hospitality business is really the slowest to come back.”
If executives agree to pay severance to furloughed staff, Mr. Anticouni estimates the total package could be anywhere from $4 to $6 million. If no resolution is met through the mediation, furloughed employees and hotel attorneys will go through arbitration, where a judge will make a final decision on the matter.
The Four Seasons is co-owned by two of the world’s richest men — Microsoft Founder Bill Gates and the Prince of Saudi Arabia, Alwaleed Bin Talal.
The Biltmore was contacted by phone Thursday but did not return a request for comment.