MONTECITO, Calif. — It’s been over 16 months since the pandemic forced the Four Seasons Biltmore resort to shut down.
Yet, its’ grand grounds are still fenced off with not a soul in sight at the resort.
After last March's closure, around 450 Biltmore employees remain furloughed.
More than 300 of them are taking legal action against the hotel through local law firm Anticouni & Ricotta.
“One of the former employees committed suicide because he couldn’t continue to take care of his family,” attorney Bruce Anticouni said.
Almost all of the furloughed employees are fighting the five-star hotel for severance pay.
“We’ve heard a bunch of horror stories, people have lost their homes because they couldn’t afford to pay their rent, so they had to move out,” Anticouni said. “They couldn’t afford to continue to live in this general geographic area.”
At the resort, all reservations have been canceled through 2022.
Some believe that Warner will keep it closed until he can reopen without the Four Seasons.
“The Four Seasons claims that they have a contract with Warner and he’s responsible for the payment of wages,” Anticouni said. “Warner on the other hand, says that these people belong to them and that they should pay the severance pay.”
Thus far, two mediation sessions have taken place between Ty Warner, Four Seasons, the employee group and the respective law firms.
The result is an offer that includes 10% of the $6.5 million of severance pay specified in the workers' contracts.
“$650,000 is not very much when you divide it up among 450 people,” Anticouni said.
Each employee has been sent a ballot to accept or reject the offer.
According to Anticouni, not one of his clients is known to have voted to accept it.
“If they decide not to make any further offers, we have no choice but to litigate the case as long as it takes and that could be years,” he concluded.
If lawsuits are filed, they would take place in the Santa Barbara Superior Court and federal court in Los Angeles.
Warner and agents for the Biltmore have not yet responded to requests for comment.