Vail Resorts’ $13M offer for labor lawsuit settlement receives final approval in California court

Case settles some, but not all, of the threats of legal action facing the company

Vail Mountain employees at the base of Gondola One on March 7, 2022. Vail Resorts on Friday settled a labor lawsuit in California District Court.
John LaConte/Vail Daily

Vail Resorts will pay $13.1 million to a group of workers and their attorneys in an effort to settle some of the legal action being taken against the company for claims of labor law violations.

Judge Michael McLaughlin granted final approval of the settlement offer for the case, known as Hamilton v. Heavenly Valley, in California District Court on Friday in South Lake Tahoe.

Vail Resorts has received numerous threats of lawsuits for illegal labor practices in recent years, and this case resolves several of them, McLaughlin said.

“I suspect it was not an easy thing to get this case resolved,” McLaughlin said.

The settlement received harsh criticism from objectors, and McLaughlin said the court had considered thousands of pages of material objecting to the settlement.

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McLaughlin said the court spent “a considerable amount of time, over several months, reviewing everything that has been submitted.”

Chief criticisms included how the $13.1 million would be distributed, with more than $4 million going to attorneys, along with how much (or how little) the less than $9 million in remaining funds would be for a class of more than 100,000 individual workers.

Objector Bryan Griffith, during Friday’s hearing, said he was offered $7, but was refused in his attempts to learn how the $7 offered to him was calculated.

“I continue to dispute that that amount that was calculated must be based upon some inaccurate information, but because no information was provided to any potential class member about how those numbers were calculated, we don’t have any possible way of knowing if it’s anywhere close to a fair settlement,” Griffith said.

Griffith is a ski instructor who works at a Vail Resorts property in Ohio; he is also an attorney who says he has observed labor law violations occurring during his shifts, including being asked to be present at the resort for four to seven hours but only being paid for one hour.

On Friday, Griffith asked the court to take into consideration something he perceived to be an incorrect statement in the court’s preliminary ruling, which was issued on Thursday and said “as of June 3, 2022, the Settlement Administrator had not received any disputes from Class Members about their recorded hours.”

Griffith said that is not true, as he himself had attempted to dispute his recorded hours, and those hours were never provided to him.

“It’s inaccurate that there was no dispute about hours,” Griffith said.

Griffith on Friday also said the court did not employ a proper “lodestar calculation,” a legal term for multiplying the reasonable number of attorney hours by a reasonable hourly rate to determine attorney’s fees.

“What the court refers to as the attorney’s fee lodestar calculation is not actually a lodestar calculation, it is simply an invoice from the plaintiff’s attorneys, their preferred hourly rates,” Griffith said. “A lodestar calculation would look to see what the common average hourly rates are for similar work in the community, and those are not the numbers that are used.”

But McLaughlin said there was considerable risk in the case, and the settlement was the result of not one but two mediations that occurred in the case.

“One was back in 2020, didn’t result in a settlement,” McLaughlin said.

Attorney Evan R. Moses, representing Vail Resorts, said the risk of Vail Resorts winning the case was the “fundamental issue” driving the settlement.

A Vail Resorts worker creates a maze at Gondola One ahead of Opening Day of the 2021-22 ski season. Chief criticisms from Vail Resorts employees and their lawyers over the company’s $13.1 million class-action settlement over claims of labor law violations include how the money would be distributed, with more than $4 million going to attorneys, along with how much (or how little) the less than $9 million in remaining funds would be for a class of more than 100,000 individual workers.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily archive

“There is substantial evidence in this case that if this matter was actually litigated to fruition, the plaintiffs’ class would recover nothing,” Moses said.

McLaughlin said Friday’s final court approval settles numerous legal battles for Vail Resorts.

“This settlement doesn’t just settle this case, it also settles four other cases that were filed and were moved to federal court,” McLaughlin said.

But one of the cases it does not settle is Quint et al v. Vail Resorts Inc., which is ongoing in federal court in Colorado. One of the plaintiffs’ attorneys in that case, Edward Dietrich, also represented objectors in the Hamilton case which was resolved on Friday.

The Hamilton case saw more than 1,500 opt-outs, along with several people who tried to opt out and weren’t properly added to the list.

Attorney Jen Liu, representing the workers in the Hamilton case which was settled on Friday in California, said those people who tried to opt out and didn’t see their name added to the opt out list can still be added.

“It is our belief that people who have expressed a clear intent to opt out should be able to opt out, and we are going to continue to make efforts to ensure that happens,” Liu said on Friday.

Dietrich, on Friday, said the number of opt-outs in the California case is significant, as it shows a negative reaction to the settlement on behalf of the class.

“For over 1,500 people to take the action that they did by filing forms with the claims administrator, when the forms weren’t even on the website, shows that it’s an extraordinary number,” Dietrich said.

Those people who opted out preserve their right to sue Vail Resorts for labor law violations, and can now join Dietrich’s case, which is being pursued in federal court in Colorado.

Dietrich tried to intervene in the California case and was denied by McLaughlin, but has an unresolved appeal of that motion to intervene still active in California court. With that in mind, McLaughlin allowed comments from Dietrich on Friday.

“If you can limit your comments to anything you want me to hear that has not already been submitted, I would certainly appreciate it,” McLaughlin said.

Dietrich responded with a quote from FDR.

“Our nation, so richly endowed with natural resources and with a capable and industrious population, should be able to devise ways and means of ensuring to all our able-bodied working men and women a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work,” Dietrich said.

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