A group of Jamaican nationals hired to work at the ultra-exclusive Yellowstone Club, MT, who sued the resort claiming that they had been cheated out of tips and other compensation, have reached a $1 million class action settlement, court documents show. About ninety Jamaican workers will receive checks ranging from less than $1,000 to more than $14,000 under the settlement.
The class-action suit was filed in September 2018 on behalf of Jamaicans who worked at the club with H-2B visas in the winter of 2017-2018 and alleges civil racketeering, racial discrimination, failure to pay required wages, fraud, and other claims.
Instead of getting their expected generous pay-packet, the Jamaicans “found themselves jointly employed by a temp-staffing firm from Georgia, robbed of their tips and service charges, and with deductions taken from their pay that they never agreed to,” according to the original complaint filed in October 2019 in federal court in Butte, Montana. Under the settlement, Yellowstone Club will pay $515,000 and the staffing firm will pay $485,000.
The Jamaicans also allege they were treated worse than other workers because they’re black. The group, which is represented by an advocacy group called Towards Justice, also filed a complaint with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Dozens of Jamaican citizens were recruited to work as cooks, servers, and housekeepers at the Yellowstone Club, an ultra-exclusive resort for the ultra-rich and famous. Cooks, who prepared meals for Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and Mark Zuckerberg, were supposed to receive a percentage of the revenue for all food prepared in the kitchen and were told they would receive tips up to $600 per night. Black Jamaican cooks on visas didn’t receive this compensation while other cooks did, according to the complaint. When one Jamaican server complained about his compensation, a human resources employee of defendant Hospitality Staffing Solutions informed him “he could always be ‘taken back to Jamaica,’” according to the complaint.
Hans Williamson, General Manager of the Yellowstone Club, said in a statement that since the 2017-18 season, the Yellowstone Club now directly employs all their seasonal workers, cutting out the agency middleman, and they are proud of their strong partnership with Jamaica:
“We strive to be the workplace of choice in the region by providing permanent and seasonal team members with competitive wages, shift meals, housing opportunities, and more. These benefits have attracted a world-class workforce that ranges from lifelong Montanans to employees from across the globe. Following the conclusion of our first H-2B season in 2017-2018, we now directly employ and manage our H-2B teammates from Jamaica and the majority of these employees have returned each year leading to growth in the program. We are proud of our strong partnership with Jamaica, which was recognized at an official government event in 2020.”
– Hans Williamson, General Manager of the Yellowstone Club
Offering further background to the settlement, the Yellowstone Club added:
A third-party staffing company and Yellowstone Club Operations LLC (YCO) have come to a mutual agreement with the plaintiffs who filed a civil suit in September of 2018. The settlement agreement reached through mediation was nearly split between the two entities. The brief expressly states that “While Defendants do not admit the validity of these claims, or the validity of the factual allegations contained in this brief or the declarations attached hereto, they have agreed to the Settlement to avoid costly and protracted litigation.”
The initial lawsuit was filed by 5 people from the 2017-2018 winter season, which was the first year YCO utilized the H-2B program. After the first winter season utilizing the program (2017-2018), YCO decided to directly manage and employ the H-2B workers for the 2018-2019 winter. YCO finished its third winter season (2019-2020) with support from H-2B workers and has directly managed and employed them since.
The majority of the employees involved in the Class returned the following year, with many returning multiple years. Before COVID, the H-2B Jamaican workers had tripled in size from that first year. Please see attached letter describing the strong relationship. YC has also since added additional countries it partners with for H-2B engagement.
The H-2B government program allows U.S. employers who meet specific regulatory requirements to employ foreign nationals to fill temporary nonagricultural jobs, including seasonal work.
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The Yellowstone Club, also Yellowstone Ski Resort, is a private residential club, ski resort, and golf resort located in the state of Montana. The Rocky Mountain ski and golf club is located in eastern Madison County, just west of Big Sky, Montana, south of Bozeman, and northwest of Yellowstone National Park. Membership reportedly costs a minimum of $250,000 to join, plus the cost of a $5 million to $35 million for a mountainside home, plus annual dues of about $20,000. To maintain its exclusivity, membership is capped at just over 800 members.