Plaintiffs in Vail Resorts federal labor lawsuit push back against motion to postpone their case

California settlements should not proceed given stronger claims of federal labor law violations in lawsuit filed in Colorado, plaintiffs say

Kelli Duncan
Vail Daily
A group of current and former Vail Resorts employees are involved in a proposed collective action lawsuit against the company, alleging that they were not paid for all hours worked or were not reimbursed fully for necessary equipment.
John LaConte/Vail Daily

EAGLE — The plaintiffs in an ongoing federal labor law violations lawsuit against Vail Resorts are pushing back against the company’s efforts to postpone the lawsuit as it settles three similar cases filed in California.

While the three cases are similar in some ways to the proposed collective action lawsuit filed in Colorado District Court, plaintiffs say their case is stronger and contains broader claims that would call for a more impactful settlement, according to recent legal documents filed.

A motion by Vail Resorts to postpone the case filed in Colorado while the California matters are settled was granted by a federal judge last month. If those cases are settled, the company could then argue that the agreement should settle the Colorado case, as well, which the plaintiffs’ attorneys say is a blatant attempt to get off easy.

Edward Dietrich, attorney for the plaintiffs in the Colorado case, has declined to comment on the case’s progression. Dietrich and Benjamin Galdston are representing the now 16 plaintiffs.

Vail Resorts is represented by Jonathan O. Harris and Raul Chacon Jr. of the firm Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart. Vail Resorts and its counsel have declined to comment on the latest developments in the cases, as well.

The Colorado case 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 in Eagle County.

The case 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 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.”

“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 last month.

Pushing back against the postponement

Shortly after the motion to postpone the Colorado case was granted, Dietrich and Galdston filed an objection alleging that Magistrate Judge Gordon P. Gallagher, a federal judge assisting with the Colorado case, used the wrong legal standard in making his ruling.

The ruling should be overturned as it is “clearly erroneous and contrary to law,” they said in the objection filed Oct. 22.

“The public interest does not weigh in favor of a stay,” they argued. Gallagher also “ignored” the negative impacts a stay would have on plaintiffs in the Colorado case and “evidence of Vail’s litigation misconduct,” they wrote.

Vail Resorts denied these claims in a recent statement opposing Dietrich and Galdston’s objection to the ruling. The company has argued that postponing the Colorado case as settlement proceedings move forward in the California cases will save time and resources for all parties.

“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 wrote in a statement on behalf of Vail Resorts.

The two main California lawsuits filed against Vail Resorts were filed by Anna Gibson and Adam Heggen, both former employees of the company.

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. The case was filed in California state court in October 2020 before being moved to district court, 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 the U.S. District Court of Eastern California until April, according to filings in the case.

A third related case was filed by a man named Christopher Hamilton, also against Heavenly Valley. That case was filed in July in the Superior Court of California in El Dorado County, where it remains today.

Of the four cases, the Colorado case filed in December 2020 was “the first filed Fair Labor Standards Act action against Vail,” meaning it should take precedent and be allowed to continue, Galdston and Dietrich wrote in their objection to Gallagher’s ruling.

Furthermore, their case “was brought in the jurisdiction of Vail’s headquarters and asserts the broadest claims,” they wrote. “These three factors alone raise a ‘strong presumption’ that claims against Vail should be adjudicated, and resolved, in this district.”

“Finally, other relevant factors, including inequitable conduct, bad faith and forum shopping (by Vail Resorts), compel proceeding in this district,” the attorneys wrote.

A motion to intervene in the California-based cases

A week and a half after filing the objection to the judge’s ruling, Dietrich and Galdston filed a motion to intervene in one of the California-based cases on the grounds that a settlement would “impair or impede” their ability to protect the interests of their clients.

“Rule 24 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that a ‘court must permit anyone to intervene who … claims an interest relating to the subject of the action and is so situated that disposing of the action may as a practical matter impair or impede the movant’s ability to protect its interest unless existing parties adequately represent that interest,'” the attorneys wrote in the motion filed Nov. 2.

If the California settlements go forward with the Colorado case postponed, employees that cash in on the settlement offer give up their legal rights to join the Colorado case. This would likely leave Dietrich and Galdston with a smaller class and less negotiating power to get the full reimbursement of alleged unpaid wages and the policy change for which their clients are asking.

Galdston and Dietrich filed the motion to intervene in the Gibson case last week. If the judge grants their motion, they would be allowed to participate in a Dec. 17 hearing in the U.S. District Court of Eastern California to make their case for why they should be allowed to join the Gibson case.

If Dietrich and Galdston are allowed to intervene in the case, they announced their intentions to immediately file a motion to dismiss the California cases so that settlement proceedings cannot move forward.

This would allow the Colorado case to move forward instead, and the California plaintiffs could sign on to be a part of the Colorado case and benefit from any future settlements reached in that case.

However, this increasingly complex situation became even more uncertain last week when Judge Kimberly J. Mueller, the district court judge presiding over the Gibson case, signed a document filed by Vail Resorts asking to move the settlement proceedings to California state court.

The document filed by Vail Resorts on Oct. 29 asked to consolidate settlement proceedings in the three California cases under the Hamilton case. This would move the matter out of the Eastern California District Court to be litigated in California state court instead.

Dietrich and Galdston’s motion to intervene in Mueller’s courtroom was filed just a few days later Nov. 2, but Mueller signed the request to move the matter out of her jurisdiction Nov. 4.

Given all of this, it is unclear whether Dietrich and Galdston will be able to come before Mueller for the Dec. 17 hearing.

The hearing is still set but is pending clarification from Mueller — clarification that Galdston and Dietrich cannot ask for directly because they cannot participate in the Gibson case unless their motion to intervene is granted.

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