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Las Vegas Workers Sue Casinos Over Covid-19 Safety

Las Vegas Strip hospitality workers filed a lawsuit against casino operators on Monday, accusing the companies of failing to protect employees from Covid-19, one of the first efforts to hold employers legally responsible for infections as cases in the U.S. surge.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas against the owners of Harrah’s, MGM Grand and Bellagio casinos, says the companies didn’t immediately shut down food-and-beverage outlets and other areas after learning of positive cases, didn’t immediately inform employees when co-workers tested positive and didn’t adequately contact-trace before allowing colleagues of infected employees to return to the job.

Culinary Union Local 226 and Bartenders Union Local 165, through their joint bargaining agency, filed the lawsuit against Harrah’s Las Vegas LLC, a subsidiary of

Caesars Entertainment

Corp., and the Signature Condominiums LLC at the MGM Grand and Bellagio LLC, subsidiaries of MGM Resorts International.

The lawsuit said unsafe working conditions violate the unions’ contract. The unions represent 60,000 hospitality workers.

In response to the lawsuit, MGM Resorts said the company has offered free testing to workers before returning to the job and requires testing for anyone with symptoms or who might have been exposed. Managers have been trained in response protocols and work closely with public-health officials on contract tracing following positive test results, according to the company.

A Caesars Entertainment spokesperson said the company had no comment on the lawsuit. In a statement, the company said when a restaurant worker tested positive recently, Caesars launched an investigation at the direction of the Southern Nevada Health District, which identified co-workers who came in close proximity with the worker, the company said. The workers were placed on paid self-isolation and the restaurant has been temporarily closed for cleaning, the company said.

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Senate Republicans and the Trump administration have pushed to shield companies from liability during the coronavirus pandemic as a condition of the next round of relief for households and businesses. U.S. companies have expressed concern about litigation as workers get sick or die from Covid-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has said the risk of class-action claims and other lawsuits could deter businesses from reopening.

Las Vegas casinos were allowed to reopen on June 4 with masks voluntary for guests.

Three weeks later, after calls from unionized workers, Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolakordered anyone inside casinos to wear face coverings beginning June 26.

Nevada reported 734 new cases Monday, bringing the total to 17,894 cases and 504 deaths.

Sixto Zermeno, a bellman at the Signature at MGM Grand for 10 years who is part of the lawsuit, said that when he was called back to work, the hotel was short-staffed, and guests weren’t social-distancing or wearing masks. On June 10, he was tested for Covid-19 after getting a fever and headache, and the next day learned that he was positive.

He said management was difficult to reach to report his case, and after alerting the MGM Resorts corporate office, the company didn’t immediately close down the bell desk and valet booth where he worked.

Bellmen and valets who worked shifts with him continued to interact with guests, according to the lawsuit.

“We’re not just numbers,” Mr. Zermeno said at a news conference Monday. “We’re families also. We’re human. I just want them to care, honestly.”

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At least three valets and bellmen at the Signature have tested positive, according to the lawsuit.

It also says that Harrah’s failed to properly respond when a food runner at Guy Fieri Vegas Kitchen and Bar, co-managed by Harrah’s, tested positive.

Nineteen union workers or their dependents have died from Covid-19, according to the union.

Write to Katherine Sayre at katherine.sayre@wsj.com

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