Verdict: Skico to pay $150,000 to former Little Nell housekeeper
A federal jury Thursday awarded a former Little Nell employee $150,000 in her lawsuit against Aspen Skiing Co.
Carbondale resident Arcelia Rojo had sued Skico, which owns and operates the five-star hotel at the base of Aspen Mountain, following her termination in March 2013. Her suit, filed in July 2014, accused Skico of violating the Americans With Disabilities Act when it fired her.
The case went to trial Monday in Denver. The jury awarded Rojo money for compensatory damages, which are based on how much money the plaintiff lost because of the defendant’s wrongdoing.
In a statement issued after the verdict, Skico said: “This is a regrettable situation and we apologize for any hardship this may have caused. We fully believe we made reasonable efforts to accommodate our former employee’s injury, but that was not the opinion of the jury. We remain fully committed to being a great employer and we will learn from this outcome.”
Rojo’s suit said she hurt her elbow when she was cleaning a shower at The Little Nell hotel in 2011. Her doctor imposed physical restrictions that allowed her to continue to work, but Rojo’s suit said her superiors made it difficult for her to work under the restrictions. After complaining about her work conditions, she was transferred to the Skico-owned Sundeck restaurant on the top of Aspen Mountain in August 2012.
There, her superiors made her do difficult work that was at odds with her physician’s instructions forbidding her from lifting and carrying and pulling heavy loads, according to her lawsuit.
Rojo’s supervisor “badgered, intimidated and made demands on Ms. Rojo in a manner that made it impossible for Ms. Rojo to observe her doctor-recommended work restrictions,” her suit said.
Skico had countered that it fired Rojo because she didn’t follow doctor’s orders.
After being fired months later, Rojo asked for other Skico employment, but it wouldn’t accommodate her, the suit alleged. Rojo’s attorney, Ted Hess of Glenwood Springs, argued that was how Skico violated the Americans With Disabilities Act.
The jury delivered its verdict at 10:31 a.m. Thursday after deliberating earlier that morning and the previous day, according to court records.
A form, given to the jury after testimony to render its verdict, read as follows:
• “Did Ms. Rojo prove by a preponderance of the evidence that Aspen Skiing Co. regarded her as disabled under the ADA, that is, regarded her as having an impairment that substantially limits a major life activity?” The jury answered “yes.”
• “Did Ms. Rojo prove by a preponderance of the evidence that her perceived disability under the ADA was a substantial motivating factor that caused Aspen Skiing Co. to terminate her employment?” Again, the jury answered “yes.”
Rojo, who was 49 at the time of her termination, also sued Skico for age discrimination. Senior District Judge Richard P. Matsch dismissed that claim in August.
The next step is setting a pretrial conference regarding potential economic damages to Rojo. Economic damages are based on potential past and future losses.
Hess could not be reached for immediate comment Thursday.
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The Little Nell Hotel Group, a division of Aspen Skiing Co., announced Friday that it purchased seven acres of vacant land at the base of Mammoth Mountain. It plans to build a Limelight hotel and residences. The size hasn’t been disclosed yet.