Wilmington's Whist club settles suit claiming employees were told to get unemployment, but keep working
Wilmington's University and Whist Club quickly settled a lawsuit claiming that as the pandemic raged last summer, employees were made to work without pay and instructed to seek unemployment benefits from the state.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in January on behalf of two former managers at the club, was settled earlier this month.
It named the club and its owner, John Hynansky, the multimillionaire founder of the Winner Group auto dealerships and owner of one of the largest auto importers in Ukraine, as defendants. Jeffrey Weiner, an attorney representing Hynansky and the club, declined to comment.
Ron Poliquin, the attorney who represented the plaintiffs, said the settlement bars him from discussing the lawsuit.
The dispute is one of what experts believe will be an increase in worker wage disputes navigating the courts after the pandemic racked the economy. The Whist Club claims were against one of Wilmington's most historic venues.
Tucked away on a 2-acre, tree-lined property surrounded by a stone wall topped by a hedgerow, the mansion is perhaps best known as one of the city's premier locations for weddings, banquets and other events largely targeted to Delaware's upper crust.
But it was not immune to the pressures of the pandemic. According to the lawsuit, Hynansky notified the club's employees in March last year that it would close due to the pandemic.
Three days later he told the plaintiffs to file for unemployment benefits, the lawsuit states.
He also told the club's vice president and general manager, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, to tell other employees that they needed to file for unemployment.
But around the same time, Hynansky told the plaintiffs they were required to continue working to maintain the club's operations and that they would receive no compensation for that work, the lawsuit states.
He said he'd "make up the difference" upon his return from the Ukraine, according to the lawsuit. So from mid-March through April, the plaintiffs worked from two to eight hours a day at the club for six days a week with no compensation from the club, the lawsuit states.
In May, the club began takeout and package sales and again the plaintiffs and other employees were not compensated for their work, the lawsuit states.
In June, the club began to open every Wednesday for member lunches and dinners.
A month before, some members found out that employees were not being paid and started a charity fund for the managers. The money from that was also withheld for several months, the lawsuit claims.
In August, one plaintiff informed the club he was quitting.
Around then, that plaintiff told the other plaintiff that the donation fund had reached $38,950, which would be distributed among the cub's managers.
The plaintiff also told his co-worker that Hynansky intended to pay 75% of the manager salary and "would make it right for the managers' due diligence for the last six months" when he returned from Ukraine where he quarantined from March until August.
In late August, the employees returned to payroll status. One plaintiff, who is a Black man, was promoted to assistant general manager of the club, and a woman was promoted to general manager.
Hynansky told the Black man the new position didn't come with a pay raise and that they'd discuss that in six months, the lawsuit states.
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According to the lawsuit, the plaintiff "asked why he was not given the general manager position and Hyansky responded, “'She can’t work for you (black man) but you can work under her (white woman).'"
In September, proceeds from the charitable donations were disbursed through the club's payroll.
The lawsuit made claims that the employee's treatment violated state law requiring employees to be paid and be paid a minimum wage as well as violations of their contract.
Typically, employers are asked to verify that their employees seeking unemployment are indeed not working. It is unclear if the club filed forms with the state to incorrectly verify that the employees applying for unemployment benefits were not working.
The Delaware Department of Justice and the Delaware Department of Labor declined to comment on the specifics of the case.