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3M, Imation, Spectratech named in suit

April 05, 2000|By DAVE McMILLION, Charles Town

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Seven former employees of a Middleway, W.Va., printing plate manufacturer have filed suit against 3M, Imation Enterprises and Spectratech International, alleging the companies broke a promise by firing them after they developed an award-winning printing process.

3M/Imation officials told the seven workers that if they perfected a new type of chemical-free printing plate and made its manufacture commercially viable, 3M/Imation would keep the Middleway plant open and the workers would keep their jobs, the suit filed March 28 in Jefferson County Circuit Court alleges.

The workers developed the new printing plate technology in 1997, and it was so successful that it won an international award for technical innovation, the suit claims.

But 3M/Imation closed the plant in December 1998 and the seven workers were among 170 employees who lost their jobs, according to the suit and attorneys representing the workers.

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3M/Imation then sold the Middleway plant to Spectratech, which is now producing the new printing plates for 3M/Imation, the suit says.

The seven workers are making a number of allegations in the suit, including breach of express oral contract of continued employment, breach of implied contract of continued employment, breach of written contract and wrongful discharge.

The suit also alleges that 3M/Imation violated the state Human Rights Act by allegedly discriminating against blacks, women and workers over 40.

In order to get severance benefits, nearly all the discharged workers had to sign a document restricting their rights to future employment with certain other companies in the printing field, said Berkeley Springs attorney Richard Gay, one of five lawyers representing the workers.

The suit alleges 3M/Imation "conspired" with Spectratech to use the document as a tool to keep blacks, women and workers over 40 from being rehired.

Although seven plaintiffs are bringing the suit, the action could end up representing about 100 former 3M/Imation workers, their attorneys said.

"We consider this a working man's case," said Winchester, Va., attorney Clinton R. Ritter, who is representing the workers.

The workers are not requesting a specific award of money but are demanding a trial by jury.

Spectratech executives said last year they hoped to hire up to 130 employees at the plant. It is not clear how many people currently work there. Calls to the plant manager's office were not returned Tuesday.

Jane Peters, executive director of the Jefferson County Development Authority, said there were about 50 workers at the plant when she checked with Spectratech about three months ago.

Also named as defendants are Larry Doris, former plant manager; Charles Oesterlein, Barbara Cederberg and K.C. Lum, former 3M employees charged with the responsibility of shutting down the plant and Sam Adams, Dean Stickel and Clarence "Butch" Ruppenthal Jr., who were considered de-facto managers for the local plant, the suit says.

3M spokeswoman Mary Auvin and Imation spokesman Jason Thundstrom said Tuesday they could not comment on the suit because their companies have not been provided with the papers.

Auvin said 3M and Imation are separate companies, but the suit claims Imation was "at all times the instrumentality and alter ego of 3M."

"One of the chief purposes of Imation at that time was to eliminate the Middleway plant," it says.

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