In this June 2010 photo, the front entrance to the inn of Daufuskie Island Resort & Breathe Spa was beginning to show signs of abandonment. The resort's owners declared bankruptcy in 2009.(Photo: File, Staff photo)
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About 50 former employees of the now-defunct Daufuskie Island Resort and Breathe Spa received checks this week after a four-year legal battle over unpaid vacation time and health insurance claims.
Most of the checks, totaling nearly $175,000, were mailed from a Bluffton law office Thursday, said the employees' attorney, Marshall Horton.
The employees' legal fight, which began in 2009, ended last month in a settlement with the former resort and its management company.
For some of the former employees, the checks remind them of a time they'd rather not remember.
"Over the years, I've just kind of forgotten about it," said former resort manager Tai Ford. "You don't want to sit and wait around for something that may not happen."
Ford was one of the last of the employees to be laid off as the resort shut down in the spring of 2009.
"We came in one day, and they said we were closing down," said Ford.
The next day, the resort did.
The resort was managed by West Paces Hotel Group, now called Capella Hotel Group, and it was owned by Daufuskie Island Properties, run by Bill and Gayle Dixon.
Daufuskie Island Properties filed for bankruptcy in January 2009. About 150 people lost their jobs in the final round of layoffs.
Attempts this week to reach the Dixons were unsuccessful.
Horton began representing many of the former employees in early 2009 after West Paces told them their unused paid-vacation time would not be reimbursed. Before that announcement, many of the former employees were advised by their managers to save vacation days, the lawsuit said. The managers said the paid time off would serve as a severance payment.
"We always believed that there would be enough money for the very last employees to (be paid) their paid time off," said John Russell, former vice president and managing director of the resort.
When the Dixons were unable to supply West Paces with enough money to pay for the vacation time, Russell said, "it was all I could do to hand them (their last paychecks) and look them in the eyes and tell the truth, because that's what I would want someone to do to me."
Russell is also receiving a check for unused paid vacation. He declined to say how much he expected to receive.
The settlement also included $134 for each person to cover employee health insurance payments in November and December 2008. West Paces was unaware that the insurance payments had not been made, Russell said.
After four years in litigation, Horton said, "It was a lot more effort than it was worth (monetarily) for me, but there was such an incredible wrong done to these people." The total settlement was for $300,000 including lawyers' fees. About $100,000 was split between Horton and other legal professionals who worked on the case, Horton said.
Ford and her husband, Patrick, who worked as a golf pro at the resort, had moved into a small cottage they built on Daufuskie just six months before the resort closed.
"It was devastating," Tai Ford said of the layoffs.
They moved to Florida to find work, but were able to return to Daufuskie and their cottage to help run the Bloody Point Golf Course in July. Longtime Daufuskie property owner and president and CEO of the McCarthy Group of Florists, Brian McCarthy, purchased the course, pool, clubhouse, spa and tennis courts for $1.64 million in June.
Ford said she hasn't thought much about what she'll do with the settlement money. She guessed her unpaid vacation time was worth between $4,000 and $5,000.
Overall, the experience has left her somewhat wary.
"It's hard to get your hopes up again after something like that," she said.