Hermitage Club ordered to pay $40,000 for whistleblower retaliation

BY KATY SAVAGE/VTDIGGER

Hermitage Club has been ordered to pay a former employee more than $40,000 after he was fired for complaining the company engaged in illegal financial activity, according to a press release from the Department of Labor.

Hermitage Club fired the employee on Dec. 18, 2017, after he told Vermont regulators that the club benefited from illegal referral fees, according to a press release.

A year-long OSHA investigation determined the employee’s actions were protected activity and that his termination violated the whistleblower provisions of the Consumer Financial Protection Act, the release said.

“CFPA prohibits retaliation against whistleblowers for reporting activities that they reasonably believe violate federal consumer financial protection laws to state regulators,” said OSHA Regional Administrator Galen Blanton in the press release.

The Department of Labor ordered Hermitage Club Realty LLC to pay the employee $22,693 in back pay and bonuses with interest, as well as $20,000 in compensatory damages, according to a press release. Hermitage Club Realty, LLC was also ordered to expunge the complainant’s employment records, not retaliate or discriminate against the former employee, and post a notice of OSHA’s findings at the facility.

The Department of Labor did not give more details about the complaint. The department would not release the name of the employee.

The violation is similar to a complaint former Hermitage Club manager Robert Balewicz made last year.

Balewicz said he was fired for filing an OSHA complaint that stated Hermitage Club’s founder and CEO Jim Barnes engaged in illegal referral fees and accounting activity.

Barnes denied those allegations in an email Thursday. Barnes said the club was in the process of appealing the Department of Labor’s decision.

“The employee was terminated for well-documented cause,” Barnes said. “The company did not engage in any illegal referral fees and is filing objections and requesting a hearing before an administrative law judge at the U.S. Department of Labor.”

The private four-season club with a ski area in Wilmington has about 500 members. It has seen a number of legal and financial challenges.

After the employee was terminated last year, the Vermont Department of Taxes shut down Hermitage for owing $1 million in back taxes.

Berkshire Bank also foreclosed on several Hermitage properties last year after Hermitage failed to make payments on loans totaling $17 million.

Rep. John Gannon, D-Wilmington, who has been a member of the Hermitage Club since 2013, wasn’t surprised about the OSHA violation, given the complaint from the former manager.

“Assuming the allegations are true, they’re concerning,” Gannon said.

Harper Sibley, who became president of the Hermitage Club in August, said club members would take Department of Labor’s findings seriously.

“I regret that it happened,” Sibley said. “If we have to pay a fine, we’ll pay a fine.”

Featured Photo: A base lodge at the Hermitage Club. Photo courtesy the Hermitage Club. 

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