At the end of the month, the executives and furloughed employees from Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara will sit down for a mediation, the latest step in a conflict between the two parties over whether the workers are owed severance from the Biltmore’s closure.
The hotel closed in March 2020 and has remained closed ever since, even though hotels are not among the businesses that have been forced to close by state or local health orders. The employees say they’re owed millions of dollars in severance pay. Requests to hotel management for comment were not returned by the time the Business Times went to press.
The Biltmore did file any official notice with the state after the employees were furloughed. The California Worker Adjustment and Retraining Act, or WARN Act, generally requires employers to disclose business closures and mass layoffs within 60 days, though the 60-day mandate was suspended during the pandemic.
Four Seasons originally announced on its social media that the hotel would be closed through April 15, 2020, but that date came and went and the hotel stayed closed. In August, the employees led a march to the resort and to the Montecito home of the hotel’s billionaire owner, Ty Warner. After the march, the hotel clarified on its social media accounts that it would remain temporarily closed until further notice.
Bruce Anticouni, the founder of the Santa Barbara employment law firm Anticouni & Ricotta, represents more than 250 of the 450 people who were furloughed by the hotel. In a letter to various media outlets, Anticouni said that once the employees had been out of work for six months, the furlough became an “employment loss” from the date it started.
Because of a clause in their contracts, Anticouni said the employees cannot file a class action lawsuit, so they’ve had to file individually.
“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,” Anticouni wrote. “Because the layoff has now extended for more than 13 months, our clients are entitled to separation pay.”
The Four Seasons doesn’t appear to have any plans to reopen anytime soon; it canceled all reservations through 2022. If the hotel doesn’t reopen until January 1, 2023, the employees would have been out of work for almost three years.
Whenever the employees do return, they’ll return to a different hotel than the one they left when they were furloughed. Several permits were filed for work to be done at the Coral Casino, which is attached to the hotel, including work done on the children’s pool, which was made bigger, as well as the jacuzzi spa, which was relocated and made bigger. The casino replaced the doors and windows of the private dining room and turned an existing 585-square-foot section of the club into an outdoor lounge. It also repaired water damage and renovated the Bella Vista Restaurant, removing two fireplaces and chimneys in a job estimated at $700,000.