Former Casino Exec Sues Caesars Over COVID-19-Related Resignation

  • Darrell Pilant, ex-GM and senior VP at Harrah’s Resort SoCal Valley Center, has sued Caesars
  • Pilant was ordered by management to reopen the resort on May 22, but resigned May 21
  • The lawsuit states that Pilant is contractually eligible for a year's severance pay
  • San Diego County confirmed 100s of COVID-19 cases among residents who’d visited casinos
Harrah's Resort Southern California
A former Harrah’s SoCal Valley Center exec is suing Caesars Entertainment for wrongful dismissal in relation to the resort’s allegedly “dangerous” decision to reopen in May. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Case filed in San Diego Superior Court

Darrell Pilant, ex-general manager and senior vice president of Harrah’s Resort Southern California is suing the resort manager, Caesars Entertainment Inc., for wrongful termination. The lawsuit was filed in San Diego Superior Count on August 31.

“illegal and dangerous” instruction to open the resort’s doors

Pilant claims he repeatedly voiced concerns to the Valley Center resort’s management over its plans to reopen, saying it was a dangerous decision that could expose patrons to COVID-19. Pilant’s warnings went unheeded, with Harrah’s SoCal management giving the former exec an “illegal and dangerous” instruction to open the resort’s doors on May 22, the suit alleges.

Pilant, who was appointed GM in 2016, resigned on May 21, 2020. Pilant’s suit states he was “constructively terminated” and that he is contractually eligible for severance pay equivalent to a year’s worth of his salary. According to San Diego’s inewsource, a non-profit investigative newsroom, the plaintiff’s salary was not divulged on court documents, and he is also seeking unspecified damages.

In a tweet Friday, inewsource said the county had confirmed hundreds of COVID-19 cases among San Diego residents who had visited casinos:

COVID-19 concerns

Pilant claims Harrah’s SoCal’s decision to reopen in May resulted in “serious adverse health and safety consequences involving employees and customers contracting COVID-19.”

Harrah’s SoCal Valley Center resort is owned by The Rincon Band of the Luiseño Indians. In turn, the resort is managed by Caesars Entertainment Inc. Tribal casinos are on sovereign territory, so when California tribal casinos reopened in May, many other businesses – subject to state and local health county restrictions – remained closed.

217 local residents who caught COVID-19 said they visited a casino within two weeks of falling ill

San Diego County confirmed with the inewsource that 217 local residents who caught COVID-19 said they visited a casino within two weeks of falling ill, with one person eventually dying from the novel coronavirus.

County spokesperson Sarah Sweeney said the cases are linked to seven of San Diego’s nine tribal casinos and involve 141 guests and 76 employees. Sweeney asserted that the county works alongside tribal health bodies on individual cases and contact investigations but “has not made any definitive connection between any casino employee and a patron”.

Sweeney is nevertheless on record as saying “going to a casino is not essential” and that those who do so are “encouraged to review the precautions that the casino is taking to prevent illness.”

San Diego County has declined naming businesses or casinos where outbreaks have occurred.

Revenue from the California resort funds the Rincon Band’s tribal government, which services 500 members across a 5,000 acre reservation.

Career Caesars’ employee

Pilant’s suit alleges Harrah’s SoCal management frequently assured him that Governor Gavin Newsom and the county were “on board” with the resort’s reopening.

In May, Newsom sent a letter to tribal leaders, saying he was “deeply concerned” about their plans to reopen, and asked them to reconsider. While Newsom stated he appreciated the role casinos played in vital tribal funding services, he said he could not “stress enough that the risk of COVID-19 transmission remains a serious threat for all Californians.”

As coronavirus rates spiked in July, the California Gaming Association wrote Newsom, asking him to close the state’s tribal casinos.

what Caesars was doing was wrong”

Pilant, who was in Caesars Entertainment’s employ for almost 23 years, claims it’s “a matter of ‘right and wrong’ and what Caesars was doing was wrong.”

A Caesars Entertainment spokesperson for the Rincon property did not respond to phone calls and emails from inewsource.