Biltmore Estate fined for violating worker visa program, federal inspectors say

The Biltmore Estate in Asheville violated federal labor laws by hiring a guest worker over a qualified U.S. cook applicant, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
The Biltmore Estate in Asheville violated federal labor laws by hiring a guest worker over a qualified U.S. cook applicant, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. The (Myrtle Beach) Sun News

The Biltmore Estate in Asheville violated federal labor laws by hiring a non-U.S. citizen over a qualified U.S. applicant, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

The Biltmore Company paid $6,938 in back wages to an applicant for a cook position, U.S. Department of Labor officials said in a news release on Wednesday. Officials said the company, which maintains the more than 8,000-acre French-style chateau estate, violated labor provisions of the H-2B visa program, according to the release.

The company also paid a civil penalty of $24,076 assessed by the department’s Wage and Hour Division.

The Biltmore Estate is a popular North Carolina tourist attraction with an award-winning winery and century-old gardens. Recognized as America’s largest private house, the estate was built by George Washington Vanderbilt between 1889 and 1895.

Federal inspectors found that although a U.S. applicant “applied for and maintained his interest” in a job at the estate, company officials didn’t hire him, because they considered him overqualified, according to the Labor Department release.

Biltmore Co. instead hired a non-U.S. citizen, also referred to as a “guest worker,” through the H-2B visa program, labor department officials said.

The program’s labor provisions require participating employers to hire “qualified U.S. workers over non-immigrant applicants,” according to Wednesday’s release.

In a statement to the Observer Wednesday night, Kathleen Mosher, Biltmore’s senior director of communications, said:

“Due to a miscommunication with an applicant who applied for a position at Biltmore, we inadvertently made a hiring decision that violated one of the provisions of the H-2B program.

“A local candidate applied for an open position, however, we understood this candidate was not interested in pursuing this entry-level job further,” according to the statement. “Having found no other local candidates during the recruitment process, the position was offered to an international employee who worked with us under the H-2B visa program.

“We regret that we did not fully understand the local applicant’s desire for this entry-level position and have paid the fees as requested by the Department of Labor. In addition, we have made changes to our hiring process, requiring written documentation of offers to all potential job candidates.”

Inspectors also found that Biltmore Co. failed to disclose to U.S. applicants that a reduced weekly housing rate was available to employees who participated in a housing committee. Biltmore Co. offered the reduced rate, which qualified as an additional benefit, only to non-immigrant employees, according to the Labor Department release.

According to the company’s statement, Biltmore does “provide the same benefits to both, with transportation and housing opportunities available to both local and H-2B seasonal employees.”

“Through this process, however, we learned that an employee committee associated with our housing program did not meet the parameters of the H-2B program. We have eliminated that committee as a result.”

“Employers need to be aware that failure to meet any of their obligations under the H-2B program may result in the assessment of civil money penalties, debarment from the program, reinstatement of displaced U.S. workers, and payment of back wages,” Richard Blaylock, Wage and Hour District Director in Raleigh, said in Wednesday’s U.S. Department of Labor news release.

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Joe Marusak has been a reporter for The Charlotte Observer since 1989 covering the people, municipalities and major news events of the region, and was a news bureau editor for the paper. He currently reports on breaking news.