Attorney representing Biltmore employees ready to file lawsuits
Four Seasons and Ty Warner, owner of Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara, may soon be facing lawsuits from hundreds of former employees seeking severance pay.
Anticouni & Ricotta, a law firm specializing in employment law, alleges Four Seasons and Ty Warner owe more than $6.5 million in severance and around $2.6 million in vacation pay. The firm also accuses the employers of negligent infliction of severe emotional distress.
The firm represents more than 300 individual employees, and Bruce N. Anticouni, the firm’s founder, expects many more to join soon.
The attorneys attended mediation sessions on April 30 and July 10, both lasting a few hours, hoping for an agreement.
Four Seasons and Mr. Warner did not make a settlement offer during the first session. Mr. Warner offered 10% of employees’ severance.
Four Seasons did not make an offer but stated that if employees accepted the 10% offer, they forfeit their employment seniority with the company.
The 10% offer was sent to employees Tuesday, and rejections started to come in within a day, Mr. Anticouni told the News-Press.
He believes the law entitles the former employees he represents, from servers to managers, to full severance and vacation as a legal termination of employment.
The resort maintains that employees were furloughed.
Employees left March 20, 2020, with promises the hotel would reopen when safe. San Ysidro Ranch, another one of Mr. Warner’s properties, never closed.
The company canceled employees’ health insurance in June 2020 while still stating that the employees were on a furlough, alleges Mr. Anticouni.
Mr. Anticouni plans to bring litigation both to Santa Barbara County Superior Court and a federal court. He said the company’s actions violate the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act.
The WARN Act considers a layoff a termination of employment after six months. Businesses can extend the time frame beyond six months if unforeseen business circumstances arise and if the company gives proper notification to employees.
The former employees of Four Seasons and Mr. Warner have been furloughed for 17 months.
Mr. Warner will be named a “joint employer” in the lawsuit because he holds responsibility for paying wages.
Mr. Anticouni expects to file the lawsuit(s) at the end of August or beginning of September.
He is currently waiting for employees to respond to the offer of 10% severance and then will prepare the case(s).
He told the News-Press Wednesday he is prepared to represent each employee separately in arbitration if he can’t file a class-action lawsuit.
Anticouni & Ricotta addressed clients’ emotional distress in a press release.
Some former employees lost their homes, and others had to stop taking medications after losing health insurance, the press release says.
“It is hard to understand how indifferent Four Seasons and Mr. Warner have been regarding the plight of their former employees,” Mr. Anticounti said in the release. “They told them it would recall them to work when it was safe to do so.
“They enjoyed high wages and great benefits. Most of the employees relied on that promise and waited to be recalled. They are still waiting. We believe a Santa Barbara jury will hold Four Seasons and Mr. Warner to a higher standard than the way they have treated their employees.”
Four Seasons Hotel Boston faced a similar circumstance last summer after laying off nearly 200 employees in May 2020 and paying them a portion of their severance.
Employees protested, gathering extensive press from Boston media organizations. The hotel reversed its decision in mid-June, and Four Seasons’s CEO issued an apology.
Former employees of the Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara demonstrated in early August.
The resort is currently closed without a scheduled reopening date. It previously publicized that it was upgrading rooms and performing deferred maintenance, planning to reopen early to mid-2021.
Neither the Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara nor Mr. Warner responded to the News-Press’ request for comment.