MONTECITO, Calif. — After eight months filled with uncertainty, more than 150 employees at the Four Seasons Biltmore Hotel are taking legal action to obtain severance pay.
"The employees cannot afford to put food on the table at the end of the day,” furloughed hotel employee Chris Martinez said. “They can't afford their rent, mortgage payments, car payments, so it's horrific."
The group is being represented by Santa Barbara-based law firm, Anticouni & Associates.
"They've lost their medical insurance,” employees' attorney Bruce Anticouni said. “For many of them, their unemployment insurance has started to run out and they are desperate."
In August, about 250 employees and family members marched around Montecito demanding answers from the Ty Warner-owned hotel.
On November 3rd, Four Seasons executives informed employees that the hotel could remain closed until 2022.
Victor Gaytan has worked at the Four Seasons Resort for the past 22 years.
"There is is a lot of people there that gave their lives for this company,” Gaytan said.
"We're leaving with nothing, no type of severance or anything,” Martinez said. We've worked nights, weekends, holidays to provide service for our guests."
Back in March, the Biltmore closed down because of the coronavirus pandemic.
After placing each of its 450 employees on furlough, the temporary closure transformed into an expansive remodel.
However, most of the employees still want to get back to work.
"We love our job, we love what we do,” Martinez said. “We've all been doing this for many years."
"We were expecting to go back to work soon,” Gaytan explained. “We were not looking for another job because we were in furlough."
Technically, the employees aren’t filing a lawsuit, as they’re asking for each worker to receive mediation.
Anticouni & Associates believes that the employee handbook creates a contract with each worker, enabling them to be eligible for separation pay.
"The contract language provides for transition of layoff compensation,” Anticouni said. “Which is substantial."
For instance, an employee who worked at the hotel for 10 years with an average hourly rate of $25 per hour would be entitled to $16,000.00.
On the other hand, an employee who worked at the hotel for 20 years with an average annual salary of $75,000 would be entitled to $37,500.00.
This would be a huge help for Elise Kahn, who’s worked at the hotel for over five years.
"The money that we would be receiving would be really helpful going towards some of our new expenses,” Kahn said.
The law firm representing the employees is having discussions with the hotel’s legal counsel in attempt to resolve these concerns.
The Biltmore did not respond to KEYT’s request for comment.