Vail Resorts seeks to settle improper compensation lawsuits while asking for stay in other lawsuit

Plaintiffs in proposed class action lawsuit that originated in Colorado say they want change, not just checks

A new maze is set out to help people social distance n Open Day at Vail in Nov. 2020.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily archive

Vail Resorts has filed a motion to postpone a lawsuit filed by current and former employees alleging improper compensation as it pushes to settle two similar cases in California.

The lawsuit was first filed December 2020 in Colorado District Court on behalf of Randy Dean Quint, John Linn and Mark Molina, who are current or former employees at Beaver Creek Resort.

The case, referred to as Quint et al., alleges that Vail Resorts violated the federal Fair Labor Standards Act as well as state labor laws in Colorado and eight other states. The plaintiffs’ attorneys are seeking class-action status to prosecute the case on behalf of a larger group or “class” impacted by the allegations, which in this case, are current and former employees who worked for Vail Resorts over the past three years.

Since the December filing, the three original named plaintiffs have been joined by 13 other plaintiffs from various states who opted to join the class-action lawsuit, according to court documents filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado. The plaintiffs’ allegations include improper compensation for time worked and improper reimbursement for work-related expenses as well as “breach of contract and unjust enrichment.”

In a first-person declaration filed with the court, Quint estimated that between December 2017 and December 2019, he should have been paid for an additional 470.17 hours, amounting to $8,363.30 in unpaid wages.

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Edward Dietrich, attorney for the plaintiffs, declined to comment on the status of the case. Dietrich is representing the now 16 plaintiffs in the Vail Resorts case along with Benjamin Galdston. Both are California-based attorneys.

Vail Resorts is represented by Jonathan O. Harris, and Michelle B. Muhleisen.

“Vail Resorts is, and has always been, committed to treating its employees fairly and in compliance with all applicable laws,” Jamie Alvarez, the company’s director of corporate communications, wrote in a statement Tuesday.

Other cases emerge

What Quint, his fellow plaintiffs and their attorneys did not know until recently was that similar lawsuits have been filed against Vail Resorts in California.

The two California cases were filed by Anna Gibson and Adam Heggen, both former employees of Vail Resorts.

Heggen filed a “putative class action complaint” — meaning class-action status is proposed but has yet to be granted by a judge — against Heavenly Mountain Resort in California state court in October 2020, according to court documents. The lawsuit alleges that Heggen was not paid for breaks and meals while working as a security guard for the resort.

The origins of the Gibson case date back to November 2019, but a complaint was not filed in a California District Court until April of 2021, according to court documents.

Typically, defendants involved in potential class-action lawsuits are required to file a “notice of related case” to let plaintiffs know that other similar complaints have been filed, Dietrich and Galdston wrote in a response to Vail Resorts’ recent motion to postpone their case.

Vail Resorts did not file a notice alerting Dietrich and Galdston about the California cases until Aug. 12.

By this point, the company had already extended a settlement offer to plaintiffs in the two cases. The notice was filed alongside the motion to postpone, or “stay,” the Quint et al. lawsuit for 90 days while the California settlement procedures take place.

In the motion, Vail Resorts argued that settling the two California lawsuits should “resolve and release all outstanding claims against Vail Resorts.” This settlement would apply to the Quint et al. case, as well.

“We dispute the accuracy of the claims raised by the plaintiffs, however, to avoid the time-consuming and costly nature of further litigation, the parties involved have negotiated a tentative settlement and will seek Court approval to finalize and ensure the outcome is a fair resolution to all,” Alvarez said in her statement on behalf of Vail Resorts.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs in the Quint et al. case said Vail Resorts’ failure to notify the court of the related cases before extending a settlement offer “constitutes litigation misconduct,” according to their response to Vail Resorts’ motion for an extension in the case.

According to the Civil Rules for the District of Colorado, parties must file notice of related cases “at the time of its first appearance or the filing of its first pleading or document, or other matter addressed to the court.”

If they had been notified earlier, Dietrich and Galdston could have moved to combine the cases into one national class or collective action lawsuit, and initiated a remediation or settlement process on behalf of the whole group, they said in their opposition to Vail Resorts’ August motions.

Instead, Vail Resorts did not file the notice until after they were well into the process of settling the two “weaker claims,” knowing that Dietrich and Galdston would have negotiated a more costly settlement, the two attorneys argued.

The move “lay bare Vail’s true objective of extricating itself from liability without providing the compensation to which both its current and former employees are entitled or producing the evidence that would reveal the true scope of its labor law violations,” they wrote in their response to Vail Resorts’ motions.

Alvarez declined to answer a question about why Vail Resorts and its attorneys failed to file a notice of related case for so long.

She also declined to disclose the exact settlement offer proposed in the two California cases, but said the company believes it to be “appropriate and fair.”

“Moreover, it is being submitted to a judge who will be asked to ensure that it is fair and reasonable to everyone affected,” Alvarez wrote.

Vail Resorts has filed a motion to postpone a lawsuit filed by current and former employees alleging improper compensation as it pushes to settle two similar cases in California.
John LaConte/Vail Daily

Deadline looms

A California District Court judge has given Vail Resorts until Oct. 15 to file all relevant documents related to the settlement offer, at which point a hearing will be held to consider whether the judge wants to grant preliminary approval of the settlement agreement.

Vail Resorts’ attorneys said it does not make sense to continue litigating the Quint et al. case until they can see what comes of the settlement process.

“Absent a stay, the Parties and this Court will spend a significant amount of time litigating thorny, complex issues only to be rendered moot if the California court concludes the settlement reached in the Heggen/Gibson Actions is fair, reasonable, and adequate for all class members,” attorneys for Vail Resorts wrote in their motion to stay the lawsuit.

Dietrich and Galdston opposed the move to stay their case, saying Vail Resorts should not be rewarded for what they consider to be bad behavior. Beyond this, they said the claims made in the Quint et al. case are broader than those made in the California cases and, therefore, would not be resolved by a settlement in those cases.

The two California cases are seeking class-action status to prosecute claims on behalf of a much smaller, California-based class. The Quint et al. case, on the other hand, is seeking class-action status under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and would allow current and former Vail Resorts employees across various states to opt in and receive compensation.

Vail Resorts’ motion to stay the case during the settlement process also prevents Dietrich and Galdston from sending out notice to current and former employees eligible to join the case as they are currently waiting on Magistrate Judge Gordon P. Gallagher to rule on their request to do so.

Seeking institutional change, not just checks

While the exact nature of the California settlement has not been disclosed, Dietrich and Galdston said a solely monetary settlement is not sufficient in achieving justice in this case. If they had it their way, they would also seek “injunctive relief,” a legal measure that could force Vail Resorts to change its policies around compensation.

A handful of plaintiffs involved in the Quint et al. lawsuit filed declarations in opposition to Vail Resorts’ motion to stay their case. The plaintiffs said they want to be paid back for the wages they feel they are owed, but they also want policy changes that will benefit current and future employees.

They want institutional change, not just checks.

“The size of Vail Resorts, combined with its deep pockets, make many view Vail Resorts as a ‘Goliath’ that will overpower any attempt to hold Vail accountable for its violation of state and federal labor laws,” Quint wrote in his declaration. “I am not afraid of ‘Goliath’ despite just being a ‘David.'”

“I look to this Court to be the ‘Stone’ I have thrown to bring down this ‘Goliath’ who has for years abused its employees through unfair labor and pay practices,” Quint continued. “The time has come for Vail Resorts to pay back its hourly employees, and to change its future labor and pay practices so that they will be in compliance with all applicable laws. If this stay is allowed, and the settlement is approved, Vail is unlikely to make any labor and pay changes. I respectfully submit that it is this Court’s responsibility to ensure Vail is held accountable and made to change its unlawful practices.”

When asked whether Vail Resorts might consider changing compensation policies of its own accord, Alvarez said the company would “continue to evaluate changes to its policies and practices based on a variety of factors.”

“However, Vail Resorts disputes the merits of the existing litigation,” she said in the statement.

“We value the contributions of every employee and do our very best to bring the employee experience to life through competitive wages, comprehensive benefits and commitment to leadership development,” Alvarez said.

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