Thirteen long months have passed since California’s COVID shutdown stopped the tourism trade in its tracks, including at the Four Seasons Biltmore, a hotel property owned by Beanie Babies tycoon Ty Warner but managed by the eponymous resort company, privately owned in large part, said attorney Bruce Anticouni, by two billionaires: Bill Gates and Prince Al Waleed bin Talal of Saudi Arabia. Anticouni represents more than 250 of the Biltmore’s employees whose furlough, by law, has turned into a termination of employment, but who have received none of the separation pay he says they are owed.
Altogether, about 450 people were employed at the Biltmore and Coral Casino, receiving wages and benefits that were generous for Santa Barbara. Only a few employees remain in the offices, as well as a skeleton grounds crew. Others, from janitors to former senior executives, have found lesser-paying jobs, been unable to pay mortgage or rent, or declared bankruptcy. “They’re suffering,” Anticouni said, “and in many cases, their unemployment has expired.”
Anticouni and his clients will go to mediation with the Four Seasons on April 30 to try to recover somewhere around $6 million for all 450 employees, if Four Seasons agrees to treat the case as a class action. “The goal is to cover everybody,” Anticouni said. “If people want to bring their own action, Four Seasons might be confronted with another 150-plus employees who each have their own types of claims. It would be a logistics nightmare for Four Seasons.”
Attempts to contact Four Seasons, which is headquartered in Toronto, were unsuccessful.
For the attorney and his firm, which recently was renamed Anticouni and Ricotta, a court would normally determine fees at about one-third of what an attorney obtained for a client. Because of the large number of clients and money involved, Anticouni said he’d accept half that amount.
The hotel canceled all reservations through 2022 and is expected to be remodeled by Warner. Anticouni believed Warner’s plan was to remodel the hotel in a style similar to his Montecito Country Club, which reopened in 2019 to sumptuous Persian carpets and woodwork carved in Morocco.