Judge grants Vail Resorts motion to pause class-action lawsuit
Lawsuit filed in Colorado will be postponed as Vail Resorts works to settle two similar improper compensation lawsuits filed in California
EAGLE — A federal judge granted a motion by Vail Resorts to pause a class-action lawsuit filed in Colorado alleging improper compensation of its employees while the company settles two similar lawsuits filed in California.
The motion to stay the case filed in Colorado was strongly opposed by the plaintiffs and their attorneys, who said it was part of a plan by Vail Resorts to squash all the lawsuits for the least amount of money possible and without having to change its compensation policies.
The two California cases are also seeking class-action status, so Vail Resorts has argued that settling the two matters should “resolve and release all outstanding claims against Vail Resorts,” including the case filed in Colorado.
The California cases contain “weaker claims” that are more limited in scope than the Colorado case and therefore they should not be treated as parallel cases, attorneys for the plaintiffs in the Colorado case said in a statement opposing the motion to stay their case.
The Colorado case “must be allowed to continue in order to end Vail Resorts’ egregious treatment of ski instructors and other hourly employees,” one of the plaintiffs in the case wrote in a declaration opposing the motion.
“Unless this suit continues and the court determines that Vail Resorts is violating the Fair Labor Standards Act, these abuses will continue on a huge scale,” the declaration reads.
Gordon P. Gallagher, a federal judge assisting with the Colorado case, disagreed in an order filed Friday, Oct. 15, that granted the motion to postpone the case for 90 days.
This order pauses matters pending in the case, meaning Vail Resorts will not have to produce any of the evidence associated with the alleged improper compensation requested by the plaintiffs and vice versa.
Also pending — and now postponed — is a request by the plaintiffs to send information about the lawsuit to current and former employees who may be eligible to join the case and receive compensation.
Edward Dietrich, attorney for the plaintiffs in the Colorado case, declined to comment. Dietrich is representing the now 16 plaintiffs along with Benjamin Galdston.
Vail Resorts is represented by Jonathan O. Harris and Michelle B. Muhleisen. Neither Harris and Muhleisen nor Vail Resorts responded to requests for comment.
A bit of background
The Colorado case was first filed in 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 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.”
“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 week.
Meanwhile, Vail Resorts has been litigating two similar cases filed in California District Court by former employees alleging violations of state labor laws, unbeknownst to the Colorado plaintiffs or their attorneys.
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.
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.”
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 Colorado lawsuit for 90 days while the California settlement procedures take place.
In a response to Vail Resorts’ motion to stay the Colorado case, Dietrich and Galdston said the company should not be rewarded for what they deemed to be “litigation misconduct.”
Alvarez declined to answer a question about why Vail Resorts and its attorneys failed to file a notice of related case for so long.
A ruling in favor of Vail Resorts
“This court also does not find evidence of the bad behavior listed by plaintiffs,” Judge Gallagher wrote in his order granting Vail Resorts’ motion to stay the case. He cited a different rule than the local Civil Rules for the District of Colorado, which Dietrich and Galdston said Vail Resorts violated.
Beyond the alleged misconduct, Dietrich and Galdston said the claims made in the Colorado 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 Colorado 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.
Gallagher’s order was brief, barely six pages, but it gave an overview of the five criteria, based in legal precedent, that Gallagher used to come to his decision.
First is to consider the plaintiffs’ interests in resolving their case in a timely manner and “the potential prejudice to (the) plaintiff of a delay.” The second piece of this could refer to a case’s statute of limitations, a law that sets a time limit on how long legal matters can be prosecuted after the criminal or civil allegations occur.
Gallagher said this piece was fine given that the proposed stay is only 90 days and that Vail Resorts offered to stop the clock on the statute of limitations during that time.
The next two criteria are “burden on the defendants” and “convenience to the court,” according to the order.
Gallagher found that requiring Vail Resorts to start producing a bunch of evidence around compensation policies and time sheets for employees when they are about to settle similar lawsuits places an “undue burden” on the company.
“Proceeding with discovery at a time when there is pending approval of a settlement would be a waste of defendant’s resources, especially when 12 of the 22 counts in (the Colorado case) pertain to (claims made in the California cases),“ the order reads.
If plaintiffs in the Colorado case decide to opt out of receiving compensation with the California settlement offer or if “any non-overlapping claims exist after the settlement,” then Vail Resorts will be asked to present the requested evidence, and the case will continue.
As to convenience to the court, “judicial efficiency would be best served by staying discovery while a settlement related to plaintiffs’ claims is being finalized,” Gallagher wrote in the order.
The fourth factor is the interests of any other people who are not directly involved in the case, which Gallagher said does not apply here, and the fifth is public interest.
“Regarding the fifth factor, ‘the general public’s primary interest in this case is an efficient and just resolution,’” the order reads.
“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.
Vail Resorts must submit documents related to the settlement offer by Friday, at which point a hearing will be held to determine whether a judge wants to grant preliminary approval of the settlement agreement.
As 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.
In recent court documents, Dietrich and Galdston have expressed intentions to push for full compensation for unpaid wages owed to plaintiffs in their case. They will also seek “injunctive relief,” a legal measure that could force Vail Resorts to change its policies around compensation.
Alvarez declined to disclose the exact settlement offer proposed in the two California cases but said Vail Resorts believes it is “appropriate and fair.”
After the 90-day stay in the Colorado case is up, the two parties are required to contact the court within three days to schedule a status conference to discuss next steps.
This story is from VailDaily.com.
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