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The chief executive of Harrah's Resort in Southern California, who resigned before the casino reopened in May, has filed a lawsuit against its parent company, Caesars Enterprise Services, alleging it rushed to reopen the tribal casino despite security concerns due to with the Covid-19 pandemic.
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Darrell Pilant, who served as senior vice president and general manager, has been with the company for 23 years. According to the lawsuit, filed on August 31, he claims he was forced to resign from his position because he said he did not want to comply with his employer's directive to reopen because it would endanger the health of employees and customers.
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The lawsuit, announced by a whistleblower, alleges that by reopening during the pandemic, the casino violated the California Labor Code and Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations regarding employee health and safety.
"Pilant alleges, among other things, that Caesar constructively fired him from his job because he resisted and refused to comply with Caesar's directive to reopen a resort in Southern California," the lawsuit says. "Instead of being subject to the illegal and dangerous instructions of his employer, Mr. Pylant had no choice but to resign from his long-standing job at Caesars."
In an email Tuesday, the pilot's attorney, Anthony F. Pantoni, said "we stand by the allegations made in the complaint in this case" and declined to comment further.
Harrah's Resort in Southern California is operated by Caesars Enterprise Services but is owned by the Luiseño Rincon Band Indians and is located on a 5,000-acre reservation in Northern County. Tribal chairman Bo Mazzetti said the casino profits account for 85 percent of the tribe's budget.
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After closing in mid-March in an attempt to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, the casino reopened on May 22 with limited capacity. Before reopening, the casino released details of its new hygiene and health protocols, including requirements. Before entering the building, visitors must wear protective masks and have their temperature taken.
In the Rincon tribal newspaper published after its opening, Mazzetti wrote that "someone has to take responsibility and do something for the Indian tribes and reservations" because "there was no directive at the time of the governor's administration to close the shelters and enterprises. Impact on the needs of tribal government activities, tribal membership and tribal business.
Tanya Duggan, director of communications for Rincon, said in an email that the gang does not comment on active lawsuits or personnel matters. A Caesars Entertainment spokesperson also said the company is not commenting on the upcoming lawsuit.
In May, after local casinos announced plans to reopen, Governor Newsom wrote to tribal leaders asking them to reconsider their schedule to reflect conditions in the surrounding communities. In the letter, he acknowledged that tribes have rights as sovereign nations and noted the economic impact of the closure on them, but casinos are high-risk businesses due to the employees and guests who visit them.
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Kyle Kirkland, president of the California Gaming Association, said in an email that tribal casinos could become "superproliferation hotspots" if they remain open during stay-at-home orders.
The association represents gambling halls, which are prohibited on tribal lands, across the state, many of which are closed under California's self-isolation ordinance. Cardrooms were forced to close indoors on July 1, but some have reopened outdoors, Governor Newsom said at a press conference that same day.
"The disregard for public health and safety noted in this lawsuit is consistent with the recklessness expected of many tribal casino operators in California," Kirkland said. “By staying open while other indoor entertainment venues are forced to close, they have demonstrated a lack of concern for the health of their employees, guests and surrounding communities in pursuit of slot machine profits.”
As of September 4, 217 people, including 76 employees and 141 guests, have tested positive for Covid-19 and visited or worked at one of seven different casinos in the two weeks prior to symptom onset. Twelve people associated with the casino were also hospitalized and one guest died, county public affairs officer Sarah Sweeney said in an email.
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“It is important to note that the fact that a person was in a casino during the potential exposure period does not mean that they contracted the virus at that location,” Sweeney said. "Our program does not establish any specific relationship between any casino employee and the visitor." Harrah's Resort Southern California at Valley Center shown September 3, 2020. Former executive sues the casino for reopening. (Zoe Meyers/)
A Harrah's Resort Southern California executive is suing his former employer days before the casino opens, alleging he was forced to resign after management ignored his concerns that the decision was dangerous and could expose visitors to the risk of contracting COVID-19.
Darrell Pilant, former general manager and senior vice president of the Valley Center Casino, filed a lawsuit on Monday against Caesars Entertainment Inc. to the San Diego Supreme Court. He argued that the company's decision to reopen in May resulted in "serious adverse health and safety consequences for employees and customers who have contracted Covid-19."
This week, 217 local residents who contracted Covid-19 reported being in a casino for two weeks after becoming ill. 12 people were hospitalized, one of the visitors to the casino died.
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Nine tribal casinos in San Diego County reopened on a limited basis in May, almost two months after closing due to Covid-19. Because they are on sovereign land, they are not subject to local health regulations requiring other businesses to close.
The cases involve seven of the county's nine tribal casinos, which have 76 employees and 141 guests, county spokeswoman Sarah Sweeney said. She noted that even if those who test positive visited casinos during the likely exposure period, it does not mean that they contracted the coronavirus there.
The Rincon Band of Luiseno Indians owns the Valley Center Casino. It uses income from the resort to fund tribal government services for over 500 members and 5,000 acres of reservations. US. The gang has a contract with Las Vegas-based Caesars Entertainment, the largest gaming company in the US.
Tribal casinos are on sovereign land, which means they are not subject to the jurisdiction of state or local health authorities. When it reopened about two months after closing, many other businesses in the area remained closed.
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Rincon Band President Bo Mazzetti said in a recent newsletter that the group has "literally taken the lead" in coordinating with other tribes and government officials to reopen.
"Rincon's position was that someone should take over and do something for Indian tribes and reservations across the state," he wrote in the paper.
Gov. Gavin Newsom and local health officials opposed the decision to reopen. In a letter to tribal leaders, Newsom said he understands casinos are critical to funding their public services. But he wrote: "I cannot stress enough that the risk of Covid-19 transmission is a grave threat to all Californians."
In his lawsuit, Pilott claims he was repeatedly assured that Newsom and the county were "agreeing" with the discovery. Despite Pilant's management's repeated concerns about health and safety risks, they said the company had given them "illegal and dangerous" instructions to reopen.
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He called it a matter of "right and wrong" and that what Caesar was doing was wrong. His last day at work was May 21, the day before Harrah's reopened its casino doors.
Pilott's lawsuit alleges that he was "constructively fired" and is entitled to a severance pay equal to one year of his contract salary, which was not included in court documents. He also seeks restitution for unspecified damages.
A Harrah's Resort Southern California sign advertises a casino on Valley Center Road on September 3, 2020. (Zoe Meyers/)
A nearly 23-year-old with Caesars Entertainment, Pilant held positions with the company in other states before moving to Harrah's Resort in Southern California in 2011. In 2016, he was named CEO and oversaw all casino operations.
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The Rincon group, which declined to comment on the story through a spokesperson, was not named as a defendant, citing the lawsuit. A Valley Roadrunner post on Aug. 26 quoted Mazzetti as saying that no cases of COVID-19 had been reported at either the resort or the reservation.
I'm looking for their case number. An official from the Sicuan Band of the Kumeyay Nation, which owns the Sicuan CasinoResort in East District, previously confirmed that the casino was working with the district to investigate cases that tested positive for COVID-19.
Ilko, president of the National Indian Casino Safety Association, said the casinos have made some changes to their security measures since they opened. Sycuan has banned smoking in some areas of the resort, required stronger face masks than bandanas and leg warmers, and added staff to enforce the rules.
The casinos have also added surveillance resources to track people's movements, which are later discovered, he said.
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