In a significant legal development, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the Hotel Bel-Air must pay potentially tens of millions of dollars to over a hundred former employees.
The court upheld the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB)’s determination that the luxury hotel violated federal labor law by refusing to rehire 152 former employees after a temporary closure for remodeling, aimed at disbanding the long-standing union, UNITE HERE Local 11.
The decision puts an end to one of the country’s enduring labor disputes, marking one of the largest cases in U.S. history in terms of damages. The hotel’s closure in 2009 and subsequent reopening in 2011 saw management declining to rehire 152 of its former employees, with the NLRB finding and the Ninth Circuit affirming that the hotel aimed to eliminate union representation.
The court’s order mandates the hotel to reinstate affected workers with back pay and engage in bargaining with the union. Given the substantial number of affected workers and the extended duration since their denial of reemployment, the hotel’s financial obligations for back wages and benefit funds are expected to reach tens of millions of dollars. The hotel, owned by the Sultan of Brunei, is at the center of this legal battle.
Before reopening in 2011, Hotel Bel-Air conducted a job fair, reserving the first day for former employees. The NLRB trial judge, Lisa Ross, concluded that the hotel “designed the July job fair with an objective of identifying and excluding former employee applicants and avoiding recognizing and bargaining with the Union.”
Former employees faced what the judge deemed “bogus” and “preposterous” reasons for exclusion, with instances of “blatant discriminatory treatment” and the devaluation of skills. For instance, a 25-year server was rejected for purported lack of “minimum experience/skills,” while another 25-year employee was deemed unfit due to “unacceptable job stability.”
Amanda Escobar, a former housekeeper at Hotel Bel-Air, expressed satisfaction with the ruling, stating, “After dedicating 23 years to the hotel, I expected to be treated with respect. Instead, they threw me out like garbage just to get rid of our union. After more than a decade, today we are finally getting some justice.”
UNITE HERE Local 11’s co-president, Kurt Petersen, called the ruling an “incredible, long-overdue victory,” highlighting the need for labor law reform. The Hotel Bel-Air and the Beverly Hills Hotel have faced a prolonged boycott supported by celebrities and politicians for Brunei’s anti-gay laws enacted by the government that owns the hotels.