October 5, 2005
By JEFFREY B. COHEN, Courant Staff Writer
Almost two years after the Hastings Hotel abruptly closed and fired
more than 110 workers without notice, those same workers could
soon get their due.
The owners and operators of the former hotel have agreed to
pay $410,000 in a proposed settlement mediated by a federal magistrate
in Bridgeport federal court. Of that money, $285,000 would go
to the employees, $115,000 would go to their attorneys and $10,000
would go to the city of Hartford, which was a party to the suit.
"This settlement is quite good in light of the [legal] obstacles," said
Thomas G. Moukawsher, attorney for the employees. "These people
have waited long enough."
The hotel - operated by Dolce/International Hartford Inc. and
owned by Olympus Real Estate Corp. - closed Dec. 30, 2003. According
to documents filed in federal court, federal law prohibits layoffs
of more than 100 employees until the end of a 60-day notice period;
Moukawsher argued that the employees were entitled to back pay.
The hotel's owner and operator disputed that claim in the proposed
settlement, arguing that the workers did not work for an employer
that met the federal law's definition, and that advance notice
was not necessary.
Because of the settlement, though, most of the legal issues
were left unresolved, Moukawsher said.
"If mediation had failed, we would have then had to fight
this out on the law, and that could have taken quite a bit of
time," he said, adding that the money provided to the employees
is roughly 60 percent of the total that he believes they were
Attorneys for the hotel's owner and operator declined to comment
"It's a pretty big victory because it's the first time
the city's ever pursued a case against an employer for treating
workers in this way," said Matt Hennessy, chief of staff
to Mayor Eddie A. Perez. "Employers, no matter their circumstances,
have an obligation to their workers."
The city is settling for one-third
of the amount it could be awarded under federal law if it won
in court, according to city attorney Denise E. Aguilera. "We gave up some [money] so
that the employees could get more," she said. "Our
main concern was that the employees get taken care of."
The court has determined that
the employees are part of a "class." On
Nov. 30, a judge will hear the application for the proposed settlement
as well as any comments the members of the class wish to make,
Meanwhile, discussions continue in an effort to turn the 271-room
hotel into the new home of the Connecticut Culinary Institute.
In that deal, the institute would buy the hotel from Aetna, which
holds its mortgage. A spokeswoman for the institute said the
project is still waiting on state approval of $3.5 million in
The Hastings would replace the institute's Farmington campus,
although its Suffield campus would remain, the spokeswoman said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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