Cris RitchieandBailey Richards
July 24, 2012
LONDON – A lawsuit filed last week alleges that two coal companies operating in Perry County misled their employees about the security of their jobs and failed to comply with federal law when those employees were eventually terminated earlier this year.
Attorneys Cheryl Lewis and McKinley Morgan filed the lawsuit in federal court on July 20 on behalf of more than 135 former employees of Frasure Creek Mining and Trinity Coal Corp. Both companies are headquartered in West Virginia and owned by the Essar Group.
According to the lawsuit, the employees became concerned about their jobs in March when news reports surfaced about a separate lawsuit filed by Trinity Coal against the South Carolina Public Service Authority (SCPSA) alleging that the SCPSA breached its contract with Trinity by refusing the shipment of coal beginning in 2010. Their refusal resulted in the idling of operations in Eastern Kentucky, and company officials stated in the March complaint that they could also result in future layoffs.
Following the news report, the employees, both as a group and individually, requested from management information as to the status of their employment, according to the lawsuit.
“The Plaintiffs were told, by management representatives, that their jobs were not in jeopardy and that they should not look elsewhere for jobs,” the lawsuit alleges.
On March 28, the employees say they were presented with a letter from Trinity President Doug Blackburn indicating that their jobs were safe. In April, however, more than 130 employees at the Perry County operation were terminated in two rounds of layoffs on April 2 and again a little over a week later.
Trinity and Frasure Creek are alleged to have failed to give their employees a 60-day notice as required under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, or WARN. The plaintiffs allege that the lawsuit filed in March against the SCPSA is proof that company officials knew well ahead of time that they would “have to close entirely its Eastern Kentucky operations and were aware that significant layoffs were to occur.”
Calls made to company officials this week were unsuccessful, though according to statements made by former employees at a meeting in Hazard last month, the company claimed that the circumstances of the layoffs were sudden and unforeseen, meaning that they did not have to give the employees 60 days of notice or severance.
The lawsuit seeks to gain all relief for the plaintiffs entitled to them under the WARN Act and punitive damages and other costs.