Bohemian Grove to settle with seasonal workers for $7 million

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The San Francisco-based men’s club for the rich and powerful that hosts the annual Bohemian Grove encampment at Monte Rio will pay $7 million to settle a class-action lawsuit from seasonal workers alleging unfair labor practices.

Terms of the agreement involving 664 current and former valets employed from May 2011 to December 2014 received provisional approval Wednesday from Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Gary Nadler.

The valets — who serve as cooks, bartenders and assistants in about 115 separate “camps” during the two-week event starting July 14 — claimed they were misclassified as independent contractors and did not receive overtime or meal and rest breaks. They will each receive an average payout of about $8,100.

Not included in the settlement are hundreds of high school- and college-age employees who work each year in the Grove’s main welcome area and dining rooms, and parking cars, Bohemian Club spokesman Sam Singer said Thursday.

Under the terms of the agreement, to be finalized in September, the club admitted no wrongdoing, Singer said. It settled to avoid trial costs, he said.

“We have an excellent relationship with the valets,” Singer said. “The idea that the camps or club mistreated their employees in any way is simply untrue.”

One of the named plaintiffs, Jacob Horvat, 26, of Santa Rosa, declined to comment, citing a confidentiality agreement. A valet attorney, Lin Chan of San Francisco, also declined comment.

The exclusive, highly secretive, male-only summer gathering has been a Monte Rio fixture for more than 130 years. Past guests have included Ronald Reagan, both Bush presidents and media mogul Rupert Murdoch. Last year, comedian Conan O’Brien was among the performers.

Because of its elite membership, the Grove has been the target of protests.

It is organized into camps with names like Owl’s Nest and Mandalay with anywhere from a few to more than 100 members. Accommodations range from rustic tents and cabins to more lavish lodging.

Each camp has its own culture and tradition. Members also hire their own valets, who can range in age from young adults to retirees.

For many, working as a valet is a family tradition passed down through generations. Singer said camp members and valets share a close bond.

“The camps treat their valets very well,” he said. “They are valued members of the family.”

However, the lawsuit alleges violations of the California Labor Code leading to an underpayment. After interviews with dozens of valets, it was alleged the club failed to recognize them as employees, entitling them to damages for unpaid wages and statutory penalties. According to legal papers, each class member will receive an automatic payment, without filing a request, based on the number of days worked.

The settlement was reached earlier this year after 10 months of negotiation and with the help of a mediator, the papers said.

Lawyers are expected to receive about $2 million of the settlement.

At least one longtime valet said he wasn’t aware of any wage problems but noticed a change in the way he is paid since the lawsuit.

Doug Kirk, who has worked as a valet for seven summers, said the club now uses a professional payroll service instead of relying on camp members to pay valets.

Kirk, an assistant principal at Cardinal Newman High School, said he planned to continue to work at the Grove indefinitely.

“I have a very good relationship with the camp I work for,” he said. “There has never been a problem.”

You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 568-5312 or On Twitter @ppayne.

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