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U.S. Court of Appeals also sides with Ritz-Carlton in worker lawsuit

Former staff alleged wrongful termination following the hotel’s closure due to damage from hurricanes Irma and María.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit recently dismissed the appeal from former employees of Luxury Hotels International of Puerto Rico, which does business as Ritz-Carlton Hotel Spa & Casino.

The court upheld the lower court’s decision in Puerto Rico that granted summary judgment in favor of the Ritz-Carlton in Isla Verde, which has been closed since Hurricane María in 2017. The hotel has not issued any formal statement about reopening.

The former employees had claimed they were wrongfully terminated after the hotel’s operations were halted due to extensive damage from hurricanes Irma and María.

However, the court affirmed that the hotel’s closure constitutes “just cause” for termination under Puerto Rico Act 80 and the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act.

The decision detailed that Ritz-Carlton adhered to the required legal standards in notifying the employees of their layoffs and subsequent terminations following the hurricanes, complying with the WARN Act protocols.

“Plaintiffs’ last day of work was September 20, 2017. The March 2018 notice came about six months later, when it became foreseeable that the layoffs could exceed six months … no 60-day advance notice was necessary,” the opinion stated.

Despite the plaintiffs’ arguments that they received insufficient notice and that their terminations were not justified, the court underscored that the hotel’s actions fully complied with statutory requirements.

Chief U.S. Appellate Court Judge Barron stated in the decision that “the record shows that the hotel closed its doors to the public on September 20, 2017, and has not reopened for business. This closing constitutes just cause for [the employees’] discharge.”

⁠In concluding the justification for the summary judgment, the court explained, “If there was an advance-notice violation, the 19-day deficit would have been covered by the 32-hour weekly payments that plaintiffs received from September 20, 2017, to December 14, 2017; the April 12, 2018, payment; and the health-plan coverage that Ritz-Carlton provided to the employees up to March 31, 2018.”

The ruling emphasizes the strict legal framework surrounding employee terminations and highlights the challenges employees face in proving wrongful termination in cases of operational shutdowns due to unforeseen natural disasters.

The affirmation of Ritz-Carlton’s compliance with both local and federal laws underscore the importance of adherence to legal standards in employment practices, particularly in situations involving large-scale layoffs, according to the opinion.

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This story was written by our staff based on a press release.

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