Ex-Harrah’s GM Allegedly Loses Job Over COVID-19 Concerns, Now Suing

Posted on September 23, 2020 - Last Updated on October 7, 2020

A new wrongful termination lawsuit against the operator of Harrah’s Southern California alleges that the casino’s former general manager had no choice but to resign over his COVID-19 safety concerns. Information that has surfaced recently plays well to the plaintiff’s hand in the dispute as well.

The lawsuit states that Caesars Entertainment broke California law by reportedly forcing the plaintiff to choose between his job and the safety of casino employees and guests.

There’s more to the story than just an employment dispute, however.

The details of the Harrah’s Southern California lawsuit

Darrell Pilant, the former GM and senior vice president of Harrah’s Southern California in Valley Center, filed his civil complaint against Caesars on Aug. 31. He also named 20 “Does” as defendants.

Caesars operates the casino for its owner, the Rincon Band of the Luiseño Indians. Pilant’s complaint doesn’t name the tribe or anyone involved with the tribe as a party to the suit, as Caesars, not the Rincon band, was his employer.

Pilant alleges that Caesars violated the terms of his employment contract and violated two specific sections of the California Labor Code. His primary allegation centers around the circumstances of his resignation in May, however.

In the complaint, Pilant’s counsel states that he resigned a day before the tribal casino reopened because he strongly opposed reopening amid the coronavirus pandemic. The brief makes his position quite clear.

“Rather than carry out the illegal and dangerous directive of his employer, Mr. Pilant had no alternative but to resign his long-time employment with CAESARS.”

The complaint cites statements by California Gov. Gavin Newsom and the San Diego County Dept. of Public Health relevant at that time to support his position. It also cites telephone conversations in which Caesars executives directed Pilant to reopen the casino in spite of those statements.

The possible paths forward for this lawsuit

If the case proceeds to trial, Pilant’s prayer for relief will rest on the court’s interpretation of a few tenets of California labor law. Primarily, the following language will be of importance:

“…when an employer intentionally creates or knowingly permits working conditions to exist that are so intolerable that a reasonable person in the position of an employee would have no reasonable alternative except to resign, a ‘constructive discharge’ has occurred.”

The complaint points out, also importantly, that state labor law does not differentiate between actual and constructive discharges. Therefore, in the eyes of the law, the brief argues, it is just as if Caesars had fired Pilant.

To date, Caesars has not filed a response with the San Diego County Superior Court. A likely course of action will be for Caesars to file a motion to dismiss. If that fails, it may try to negotiate a settlement with Pilant.

Pilant may hold all the cards if his lawsuit survives Caesars’ presumptive attempt at dismissal. That’s due to new information from the county government.

Harrah’s possible involvement in the alleged spread of COVID-19

According to health officials in San Diego County, some casino patrons may have contracted the coronavirus at Harrah’s SoCal. The statement said that 217 people who tested positive since the casino reopened reported being at a casino within two weeks of falling ill.

Of those 217 people, 12 spent time in the hospital, and one such person died. Officials have so far declined to identify which casinos the people comprising this group of patients visited and when.

It’s important to note that this is a correlation and not a causation. No one is even alleging that any victims of the coronavirus definitively contracted the disease at any California tribal casino.

At the same time, it does provide Pilant’s case with a strong optic in his favor. Pilant’s counsel could point to these numbers in a jury trial.

Additionally, counsel for the plaintiff could subpoena health department records which may reveal contact traces to Harrah’s specifically.

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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a freelance journalist who resides in Kansas City, Mo. He is a 2013 graduate of the University of Iowa and covers the intersections of sports with business and the law.

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