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Trial in AB&C case delayed

December 25, 2008|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- More than 400 former AB&C Group workers who were laid off in March claiming they didn't receive wages due to them might not see paychecks next year either.

A December 2009 trial date was vacated last month when 23rd Judicial Circuit Judge Christopher C. Wilkes ordered the case to be transferred to Jefferson County Circuit Court where a second civil action is pending against the company and its financiers.

According to Berkeley County Circuit Clerk Virginia M. Sine's office, WIlkes ruled Sept. 30 that the lawsuit against AB&C Group's financial backers, Reliant Equity Investors LLC, Tatum LLC and 13 individually named defendants could proceed as a class action.

Circuit Judge Gina M. Groh ordered attorneys for the former AB&C employees, David Hammer, Robert J. Schiavoni and Gary G. Geffert to have legal notices published that advise any employee of the company between March 19, 2003, and March 14, 2008, of their right to "opt out" of the legal action and retain their own legal counsel.

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"Former employees should know that they do not have to take any steps to protect their rights at this time because they are automatically class members unless they affirmatively choose to opt-out of the case," Hammer said in an e-mail when asked about the status of the case.

While anticipating a new trial date soon, Hammer could not say whether the two civil actions would be consolidated in Jefferson County Circuit Court, but both now are assigned to circuit judge David H. Sanders.

Sanders is replacing Thomas W. Steptoe Jr. as the presiding circuit judge in Jefferson County as part of a judicial realignment decided by the district's five jurists after the election.

If former employees have any questions or concerns, Hammer said they should contact him, Schiavoni or Geffert.

The litigation filed in Berkeley County is an attempt to recoup about $1.6 million in wages and penalties, officials have said.

Workers at the AB&C plant off Fairfax Avenue in Ranson, W.Va., were expecting paychecks March 14 but were instead told to clean out their desks because they would not be able to return to work. Some workers received checks, while others did not, officials have said.

Workers at an AB&C Group plant in a former General Motors plant in Berkeley County were treated similarly and some are owed three weeks worth of pay, Hammer has said.

In the Jefferson County lawsuit, attorney Paul Taylor made similar back-wage claims on behalf of five former employees. The suit alleges that defendants in the suit have not paid the workers' federal and state withholding tax, health and life insurance premiums or made payments to their retirement funds. Some or all of the money that would have been used for their wages and other expenses were misappropriated, according to the civil action filed by Taylor.

"Obviously, Paul Taylor and I share a mutual interest in assuring that people recover what is due them and have been, and will continue working together towards that goal," Hammer said of the pending civil actions.

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