Public Safety

Lawsuit alleges mismanagement, sexual harassment and retaliation at Woodstock Inn

Filed by two former board members of the Woodstock Foundation against their former colleagues, the suit describes an abusive culture that was allegedly upheld by leadership of the Woodstock Inn, seen here, and the nearby Billings Farm. Photo via Facebook

A lawsuit filed earlier this month against leaders of the Woodstock Inn and Resort portrays an abusive culture at Woodstock’s flagship hotel and at the nearby Billings Farm — including sexual misconduct, discrimination and retaliation against whistleblowers — that was allegedly upheld by management.

The suit was filed in Windsor County Superior Court by Ellen Pomeroy, the former board chair of the Woodstock Foundation, and Sal Iannuzzi, the board’s former vice chair. The foundation owns the Woodstock Inn as well as Billings Farm and Museum, a dairy farm and operating partner of the adjoining Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park.

The two plaintiffs were removed from the board in November, according to the suit.

They allege that fellow board members acted beyond their authority when they suspended and removed Iannuzzi and Pomeroy from the board in what the plaintiffs described as retaliation for investigating a slew of employee complaints.

As outlined in the lawsuit, the employee complaints included allegations that women were paid less than male counterparts and denied promotions to senior positions; that female employees faced “recurrent, offensive sexual comments and behavior by both members of management and co-employees”; that management allowed a sexual relationship between a staff member and her male supervisor, later promoting both; that management allowed “a human resource training manager’s frequent use of the ‘N word’ ”; and that management allowed LGBTQ+ staff members to be harassed.

The defendants include five members of the board of trustees: James Sligar, Michael Nolan, John Hallowell, Douglas Horne and David Simmons, as well as the Woodstock Foundation itself and Woodstock Holdings LLC, a for-profit subsidiary of the foundation. Pomeroy and Iannuzzi have requested a jury trial.

The Vermont Standard first reported on the suit last week. 

A statement provided by the Woodstock Foundation board said the board has been “conducting an independent investigation related to complaints made by several employees” for the last three months. “The Foundation Board will review the findings of that investigation, when completed, and take appropriate actions.”

The board’s statement also acknowledged the lawsuit filed against its members. 

“We are aware of the complaint unfortunately filed by two of our Board members,” the statement read. “The well-being of our employees and community is paramount.”

The Woodstock Inn, situated across from Woodstock’s town green, is a prominent tourist draw. In addition to the 142-room inn itself, the facility also operates a golf course, athletic club and the Saskadena Six ski area. 

According to court documents, Iannuzzi and Pomeroy spent months investigating employee complaints, digging into the finances of the resort and Billings Farm along the way. During that time, according to the complaint, Iannuzzi discovered that the resort had not completed a financial audit in three years, violating its own policies. 

In October, several months into their investigations into the inn, Iannuzzi and Pomeroy began receiving further employee complaints from staff at Billings Farm, according to the lawsuit.

The suit alleges that the farm manager, unnamed in the court document, intimidated staff regularly, in one case telling an employee that he “knew how to bury a body where no one could find it,” and in another instance, “leaving a dead rat in an employee’s personal vehicle.”

When the two plaintiffs began to check out the allegations, deeming them credible, they requested financial reports from farm staff, but the reports were “of extremely poor quality and lacking material information,” the lawsuit said. 

The suit also alleges board members Halloway and Horne fired employees during the Covid-19 pandemic without informing the rest of the board, and directed maintenance staff to construct a home for Halloway and his family to use but owned by the foundation. 

The Woodstock Inn received more than $5 million in Payroll Protection Program loans from the federal government, all of which were forgiven, according to Pandemic Oversight, which tracks Covid-19 relief spending. The Woodstock Foundation received an additional $332,000 in forgiven loans. 

With allegations building, the suit claims that the defendants improperly held a “special meeting” of the board of trustees without Pomeroy and Iannuzzi, days before the board’s scheduled Nov. 15 annual meeting.

Board members at that meeting voted to suspend Iannuzzi from the board and bar him from the premises of the inn, according to the complaint. They also voted to remove Pomeroy from the board, and to bar an initial employee whistleblower from inn property, the suit alleges. 

The defendants later refused to provide a severance package to the whistleblower, which had already been agreed upon, and canceled her health insurance, according to the complaint. 

“The obvious and inappropriate purpose of the actions taken by the Defendants at the ‘Special Meeting’ was to terminate a legitimate investigation of allegations of mismanagement and misconduct” and to retaliate against the whistleblower, the complaint said. 

Lawyers for Pomeroy and Iannuzzi did not respond to a request for comment on Monday. 

As part of the suit, the plaintiffs demanded that the defendants resign from the Woodstock Foundation’s board, and that Iannuzzi be returned to his role supervising the management of the inn and resort. They are also seeking damages.

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Ethan Weinstein

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