This Job Sucks

An Aspen man is blown away by an alleged job requirement.

Matthew Jay doesn't look or act much like a ski bum.

Even though his love of skiing prompted his move to Aspen three years ago, Jay seems more like a young banker than a fun-loving ski-town dude. For a visit to his lawyer's office in downtown Denver, he wears a charcoal suit, white oxford-cloth shirt, red tie and black patent-leather shoes. Waiting to give a deposition, he reads the Wall Street Journal.

Just 26 years old, Jay has already launched his own business, selling maps of the mountains to tourists. A former Colorado State University economics student, he speaks with authority on writing a business plan, finding investors and looking for expansion markets.

Mitch O'Connell
Matthew Jay
Michael Brands
Matthew Jay

But that's not why Jay's visiting his lawyer today. He's here because he filed a lawsuit in April 2001 over an alleged breach of contract concerning a job offer. However, the litigation, which is currently pending in Pitkin County District Court, doesn't involve back wages or stock options or benefits.

Or perhaps it does involve benefits -- depending on whose story you believe. In its crudest sense, this lawsuit is about blow jobs.

Employers in Aspen, a town full of trust-funders and celebrities, have been known to make unusual requests of new hires. But even for Aspen, this alleged request was going too far. Before the kink surfaced, Jay says, he thought he'd found the perfect position, one that would give him both the time and money to launch his business -- as well as some extraordinary extras.

Jay claims he was approached by 54-year-old John Ortega, an employee of the Dillard family, the department-store owners, and asked if he would be interested in a position as a caretaker at their house in Aspen. The job paid $25 an hour and included a free studio apartment. But between doing the dishes and sorting the laundry, Jay claims, Ortega told him he'd have one other duty: Ortega, who was supervisor of the property, had a little "hangup" and would want to work it out by occasionally performing fellatio on his new hire.

Jay's interest in the position ended there -- but his outrage didn't, and he filed suit against Ortega and his employers, William Dillard II and Mandy Dillard.

Ortega has denied both offering Jay a job and making any demand for sexual favors; the Dillards say they know nothing about the situation. Initially scheduled for trial this week, the case has been postponed. But already, Aspen is gossiping about the bizarre story emerging in court filings, with tales of young men being approached with fabulous job offers, discreet inquiries being made about sexual pastimes, and a gun carried around in a bag labeled "Capitalist Tool."

Like many people who fall in love with Colorado, Jay grew up in the flatlands of the Midwest.

He left the suburbs of Indianapolis to enroll at CSU, looking forward to indulging his love of skiing and hiking. After spending a semester as an exchange student in Prague in 1998, Jay decided that he wanted to start his own business and that Aspen would be the place to do it. He took a day job in a ski shop, Surefoot, while working on his fledgling map venture in his spare time.

"Fitting ski boots was a lot of work, but it was fun," says Jay. "We got ski breaks during the day. I'd work all day and then go home and work on the business."

According to Jay's lawsuit, Ortega walked into Surefoot one day in December 1999 and explained that he worked for the Dillard family, the Little Rock, Arkansas-based department-store moguls who have owned a home in Aspen for years. Mandy Dillard, the socialite who heads up the female side of the family, was having a problem with her ski boots, and Ortega was looking for someone to help her. Jay says that he talked with Ortega and offered to assist Dillard, who soon arrived at the store with her ski instructor.

A few days later, Jay says, Ortega returned to Surefoot and told him that Mandy Dillard had liked him so much that she wanted to know if he might want to work for the family. Ortega showed up at the ski shop several more times over the next two months, Jay remembers, and finally took him to lunch to discuss a possible job. Ortega insisted on paying for lunch, telling Jay that the Dillards always take care of their employees. The job arrangement Ortega described would involve not only a salary and free rent, but also use of the Dillards' vehicles in Aspen and a chance for Jay to host his own family in the Dillard house when they visited. Even more tantalizing, Jay remembers, was Ortega's suggestion that he'd be able to hop rides on the Dillards' jet and helicopter, holiday at their vacation homes when they weren't using them, and enjoy a fabulous lifestyle tending to the rich and famous. While the Dillards were in town, Jay would be expected to clean the house, arrange for fresh flowers and other necessities, and help serve dinner and cocktails.

During their discussions, Jay claims, Ortega also talked about his past employment with the Forbes family on the Trinchera Ranch near Fort Garland; he hinted that if Jay accepted the Dillard job, he might have access to the Forbes family airplane, as well.

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