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DEERFIELD VALLEY — Two former employees at the Hermitage Club have filed a sex discrimination and retaliation complaint against the company and its CEO.

Robert Balewicz, former managing director at Hermitage Realty, and John Santaniello, former managing director of operations at the Hermitage Club, claim that their jobs were terminated after their friendship was criticized and characterized as homosexual.

Company CEO and founder Jim Barnes expressed "'concern' of 'optics' with Balewicz/Santaniello being in the public eye with Hermitage Club branded polos/pullovers," says a statement provided to investigators. "[S]andwich sharing was later referred to by Barnes as being gay."

Balewicz and Santaniello were hired in August of 2017 and fired at the end of that year. This month, a complaint they filed with the Vermont Attorney General's Office Civil Rights Unit was transferred to the Boston Area Office of the Federal Equal Opportunity Commission. They claim Barnes made oral sex simulations after insinuating that they had a quarrel and said "It did not look good for two fags to be running the club and living together." The Hermitage Club had no comment.

Balewicz has also filed a whistleblower complaint alleging illegal real estate practices with the United States Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The Hermitage previously issued a statement saying Balewicz "was terminated for cause after following institution of, and a failure to meet, the terms of a performance improvement plan, and after consumer complaints against the employee were brought to light. Hermitage Club Realty has also filed numerous complaints with the Vermont Real Estate Commission concerning the employee in connection with alleged illegal real estate practices, improper transfer of real estate listings and inappropriate escrow procedures. The company vehemently denies any wrongdoing."

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at, at @CMaysBR on Twitter and 802-254-2311, ext. 273.

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