LOS ANGELES--(BUSINESS WIRE)--The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals—dubbed “the second-highest court in the land”—has found that the ritzy Terranea Resort in Rancho Palos Verdes, California unlawfully fired a veteran cook for speaking to the press about working conditions and helping to organize his coworkers into a union.
Freddy Lovato was—the court observed—the “most prominent advocate for union representation” at the hotel. He was quoted in four news articles by the LA Times, Bloomberg, LAist, and Eater Los Angeles about the Terranea’s treatment of foreign “interns” and a since-settled class action wage lawsuit against the resort.
The court found Terranea management responded to Lovato and his coworkers’ union organizing by requiring workers to attend mandatory anti-union meetings. At one meeting, the resort’s president warned employees that the union would represent the employees “over my dead body.”
Terranea fired Lovato in August 2018. Weeks earlier, the company issued him a final written warning for purportedly failing to catch the mistake of a coworker in the preparation of a gluten-free mac-and-cheese dish. In a decision issued early last year, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) found that the Company had in fact punished and terminated Lovato because of his pro-union leadership, including his statements to the media.
The DC Circuit found that the NLRB had an ample basis to conclude Terranea retaliated against Lovato for his activism. The court noted that the company bypassed its progressive discipline policy and disciplined Lovato more harshly than the coworker who actually made the mac-and-cheese dish. It conducted a “cursory investigation”—Lovato’s supervisor spoke with him and his coworker for “less than a minute about the incident.” And Terranea managers “made false and misleading testimony during the hearing.”
The decision means Terranea Resort—jointly owned by Lowe Enterprises and JC Resorts—must immediately reinstate Lovato with back pay and issue a notice to employees pledging to respect workers’ federal labor rights.
“This court decision is a major victory for Freddy Lovato and his co-workers. Freddy was fired because he spoke up about unfair working conditions. He will return to work as a hero. We hope the Terranea Resort which fired and cut off insurance from their workers during the pandemic would learn from this legal decision and start to treat their workers with respect,” said Kurt Petersen, Co-President of UNITE HERE Local 11.
UNITE HERE Local 11 is a labor union representing over 32,000 hospitality workers in Southern California and Arizona that work in hotels, restaurants, universities, convention centers, and airports.