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Class action status given to AB&C workers' suit

August 11, 2009|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- A federal judge has ruled a lawsuit filed on behalf of AB&C Group workers who were abruptly laid off in March 2008 may proceed as a class-action claim for failure to provide 60 days' notice of the company's shutdown, an attorney who has been representing some of the employees said Tuesday.

The decision filed Monday by U.S. District Judge John Preston Bailey in Martinsburg means workers at three former AB&C Group work sites in Jefferson and Berkeley counties in West Virginia and Orange County, Va., automatically will be included in the legal action and stand to benefit from the litigation, David Hammer said in a press release.

Bailey also ruled that workers' claims for wages owed to them for time spent logging into AB&C Group's computer programs may proceed as a class action. They will not automatically be included in that claim, Hammer said.

"Opt-in" cards and instructions will be mailed in the coming weeks to workers' last-known addresses, said Martinsburg attorney Gary Geffert, who represents the workers along with Hammer.

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Hammer said former workers can send an e-mail to his office in Martinsburg at dhammer@hfslawyers.com">dhammer@hfslawyers.com. with new contact information if it has changed.

Employers who fail to provide the required advance notice to workers may be liable to the workers for up to 60 days of pay for allegedly violating the WARN (Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification) Act and the Fair Labor Standards Act, Hammer said.

The financial liability of the company, which is in bankruptcy, and its investors is scheduled to be decided at trial in January 2010, Hammer said.

Workers at the Ranson, W.Va., and Orange County work sites are contending they regularly were required to log into as many as 12 software programs before they were permitted to clock in, Hammer said.

"This could take anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes per work shift, and time spent logging in was unpaid," Hammer said in the release.

While Hammer said he was pleased with Bailey's ruling because it brings workers one step closer to being fully paid what they are owed, he could not say when the workers would receive unpaid wages from the company.

The federal lawsuit names Reliant Equity Investors LLC, Tatum LLC, Bluesky Brand Inc., Richard Hebert, Cathy Jo Van Pelt, Kimberly Myers, Michael Lutz and Larry Muzzy as defendants.

The plaintiffs are Joseph Nolan, Eric Woomer, Carla Coble, Stephanie Laing and Poppy Chrisman, individually and as class-action representatives.

The lawsuit is one of at least three civil actions filed after AB&C Group shut down March 14, 2008. In addition to the federal case, two lawsuits are pending in Jefferson County Circuit Court.

When asked to explain the differences among the civil actions, Hammer said one of the pending suits in Jefferson County Circuit Court alleges personal injury as a result of the shutdown and fraud, but does not include a claim that people were not paid the wages for time spent logging into the computer systems at the Ranson facility.

The other pending suit in Jefferson County Circuit Court claims employees were not paid all of their wages, but does not include any overtime pay claims, Hammer said.

The federal case seeks damages for violation of the WARN Act, which includes up to 60 days in pay, Hammer said. The federal case also seeks overtime pay for times when the employees worked more than 40 hours due to the time spent logging into software programs, Hammer said.

More than 375 employees worked at AB&C Group sites in Ranson and near Martinsburg, according to court records.

Former AB&C Group Inc. employees may reach Hammer at 304-264-8505, ext. 0, or send e-mail to dhammer@hfslawyers.com.

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