Imperial Pacific International Facing New Lawsuit from Former Employee

Posted on: December 15, 2022, 08:05h. 

Last updated on: December 16, 2022, 02:44h.

Imperial Pacific International (IPI), the embattled casino operator behind Saipan’s defunct Imperial Palace casino, can’t catch a break. Every time it resolves one legal battle, it lands in a new one.

Imperial Palace crystal dragon
One of the Imperial Palace crystal dragons that adorn the interior of the casino resort in Saipan. The casino’s operator, Imperial Pacific International, faces a new lawsuit from a former employee. (Image: Pinterest)

The latest legal confrontation will pit IPI against a former employee. The Saipan Tribune reported Wednesday that Stephen Abonita is on the offensive, targeting the company for cheating him out of money.

Abonita, a Philippine national, took a job as a casino pit supervisor at Imperial Palace, with what seemed at the time a lucrative contract. After he started with the company, he realized he was receiving a salary much lower than other pit supervisors, and now wants restitution.

Discrimination and Harassment

Abonita was to receive a salary of $48K per year. He later learned that some other supervisors, including those with less experience, were receiving more. As a result, Abonita accuses IPI of discriminating against him because he’s Filipino.

There are other factors that he says support his claim. Per his contract, Abonita was to receive two weeks of paid time off a year, free transportation home at the end of his contract, and one free meal per day. In addition, he should have been entitled to overtime pay if he worked more than 40 hours a week.

Instead, he began working daily shifts of eight and a half hours while only being paid for eight. While one pit supervisor, reportedly a white male, received $700 as a housing allowance each month, Abonita had to pay $25 a week to live in an IPI-supplied dormitory.

When he had to return home to renew his work visa, Abonita claims he didn’t receive the travel compensation that IPI included in his contract. He also says the company also never paid him for the additional time he worked each week.

Abonita wasn’t the only Filipino against whom IPI allegedly discriminated, and when a group of them protested against the company, things only got worse, according to the lawsuit. While other pit bosses moved up the ladder, Abonita remained stuck, a retaliatory result of his attempt to speak up, according to the lawsuit.

It isn’t clear how much Abonita is seeking through the lawsuit. The case will have to go before a judge in the US District Court for the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI). This likely won’t happen until next year.

Can’t Get Blood From a Turnip

Regardless of the judgment Abonita seeks through his lawsuit, he shouldn’t get his hopes up. IPI has been able to pay some of its outstanding debt and lawsuits, but still owes hundreds of millions of dollars.

It also owes some current employees, the only people left that are protecting Imperial Palace. Mariana’s Variety reported yesterday that the company has paid its security guards through December 8, but still owes the rest of its executive office employees.

IPI now only has 14 registered employees – seven of whom are security. A recent attempted theft at the casino showed the importance of keeping the guards’ money flowing. Security personnel stopped the thieves in the act,

The company has an established history of being unwilling to play by the rules. This means authorities might want to take a closer look at its operations once again.

IPI, which is currently losing its assets through a series of auctions, has reportedly brought in Chinese groundskeepers to maintain the property. However, they aren’t on the company’s payroll.

Instead, they answer to Cui Lijie, the company’s majority shareholder and former chair. She’s been in trouble with the CNMI already, having faced charges of contempt in relation to the ongoing saga. In addition, even her own lawyer once referred to her as an “incompetent” casino boss.