In November, Jenny Christall will celebrate an unfortunate anniversary: three years since the Employment Relations Authority ordered her former employer to pay her almost $200,000.
She never saw a dime because since then her former boss, Blenheim hotelier Kerry Barton, has consistently refused to pay.
With Barton’s company KLJ Ltd, since liquidated, she is trying to hold him personally responsible – but fears that by the time the Labor Relations Authority (ERA) slows that down, it will be too late.
As Things first reported last September, Christall worked for Barton at Blenheim’s Quality Hotel as a night manager from 2013 to 2017; from 10:00 p.m. every night until 6:30 a.m., she was the only member of staff, handling bar service, late check-ins, lost keys, wake-up calls, and early breakfasts. She even cooked for Barton and his wife Lee.
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For a 79-hour work week, she was paid only $310, but received free meals, housing and utilities. In August 2017, she was let go without notice when the hotel lost a lucrative contract with Air New Zealand to accommodate flight crew.
In November 2019, the ERA ruled that she had been wrongfully terminated and severely underpaid, and ordered KLJ Ltd to pay her $148,563 in unpaid wages, $24,116 in lost vacation pay and $18,000 in ‘compensation.
KLJ failed to pay – and Barton sold the hotel for $3.5 million without telling ERA. An April 2020 affidavit revealed he was renting it out and almost all the money was gone.
In October 2021, Christall’s case finally came back to ERA. He disagreed with Barton’s claim that there was nothing to pay him: pointing out that Barton himself owed the company $297,725, that he loaned $60,000 to his son Brad and that the buyer of the hotel had withheld $197,000 of the sale price while repairs were made.
ERA also recorded that KLJ’s position statement at the end of March 2021 showed positive net assets in excess of what it owed Christall.
He found that KLJ had enough money to pay and ordered him to spit by November 23, 2021.
Instead, Kerry Barton did two things: on November 17, he put KLJ into liquidation, and on November 30, he transferred his half-share to a company called Bartman, which trades as Washrite Nelson, leaving Brad Barton its sole shareholder.
This essentially means that Kerry Barton holds no assets in his name, with the family home owned by his wife, Lee.
Christall wants him to be held personally liable anyway, using Section 142 of the Labor Relations Act, which says people involved in businesses can be held personally liable.
Barton’s lawyer, Simon Gaines, has argued that the ERA has no jurisdiction to issue compliance orders and is threatening to counterclaim and seek costs if Christall does not withdraw his claim. Gaines asked the authority to strike out the claim.
With mandatory mediation next month, it is likely that it will not be until February 2023 that the case will finally return to the authority.
Even then, Barton likely only makes about a third of the money, or about $60,000, because Section 142 of the law only applies from April 2016.
Christall fears Barton will go bankrupt before then.
“He gets rid of all his possessions and by February [the likely hearing date]he won’t get anything,” says Christall.
“The law seems very, very bad. People who owe money are allowed to carry on as normal and let the other person suffer. He’s just determined not to pay.
Things first reported Christall’s case last September, when she was still hoping to get money from Barton. But progress has been glacial, not helped by ERA’s huge backlog of cases.
“I really don’t understand how the law works,” says Christall. It’s very wrong to have had to wait so long. I blame the authority, they are very slow.
Last year Barton said Things he couldn’t afford to pay and had no intention of paying, saying he didn’t agree with the decision and that Covid had deeply damaged his business, saying: ‘I didn’t silver. There is simply no money. I’m not telling a lie here. The place will just go into liquidation in a few days [if he’s compelled to make payments].”
He also warned then that he would go bankrupt if personally sued: “They might get some satisfaction out of it saying ‘we bankrupted him’: but they won’t get anything from me [financially].”
Christall’s lawyer, Robert Morgan, says he is determined to bring the case to a conclusion.
“It’s a bit tiring… But what I understood is that if you quit, they won. You must be as dogmatic as the other side: you must hang on until you have exhausted all possibilities.
Jenny Christall remains pessimistic about getting the money owed to her.
“I hope I get the money, but if not, I want him to stop running a business. Something should happen to him.