Biltmore Employees Seek Legal Action
Over 250 employees of the Four Seasons Biltmore Resort are seeking back pay to account for being out of work for over 13 months, according to a recent memorandum sent to Montecito Journal. Local law firm Anticouni & Ricotta, which is representing the employees, is scheduled to mediate with the Four Seasons at the end of this month.
Last year, at the beginning of the pandemic, 450 employees of the resort, which is owned by Ty Warner, were furloughed. Furlough is defined as a temporary loss of employment when employees return to work within six months. According to the memorandum, the Federal Department of Labor WARN Act regulations state that “When a layoff is extended beyond six months, layoff is treated as an ‘employment loss’ from the date the layoff started…” California court decisions and the California Labor Code also confirm that a furlough that lasts six or more months is a termination of employment.
“The difference between a furlough and a termination of employment affects Four Seasons’ obligation to pay its former employees millions of dollars in severance compensation. Four Seasons is contractually obligated to compensate its former employees substantial Separation Pay when their employment has come to an end. 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,” the memo reads.
Biltmore employees must opt into the lawsuit in order to be eligible for severance pay. Employees are currently submitting impact statements to be used during the mediation.
Ty Warner maintains that he has no plans to sell any of his Montecito properties, which include the Biltmore, the Coral Casino, recently-opened Montecito Club, and the San Ysidro Ranch. He has said that he is using the property closure as an opportunity to reinvest in the beloved resort; recent rumors indicate that he intends to remodel the hotel in the Moroccan style of the Montecito Club, with a projected completion date of 2025. All reservations for the resort have been canceled through 2022.
Last August, over 250 Biltmore employees and their supporters took to the streets of Montecito, to protest unanswered questions about their employment status at the resort. Many of them held signs or banners boasting how many years of service they have given to the five-star resort, only to be furloughed indefinitely without benefits or severance pay. Many donned “Biltmore Strong” shirts that were made following the 1/9 Debris Flow in January 2018; but the “St” was covered up with a “W,” so they read: “Biltmore Wrong.”
Banners were placed on the Highway 101 overpass at Olive Mill Road, as well as at the entrance to Coast Village Road.
In response to the protest, Warner told the Journal last summer that the resort was still closed out of an abundance of caution so as not to spread COVID-19.