Articles Posted in WARN Act

After experiencing a struggling economy for the past few years, many people have been either directly or indirectly affected by mass layoffs. Whether you have been laid off or know someone who has, you know how difficult it can be for those who have lost their job. However, the companies or organizations conducting the terminations do not always act according to the law. If you have questions about your rights after being terminated from your employment, contact an experienced Tennessee employment lawyer.

Earlier this month Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC), Middle Tennessee’s largest private employer, terminated over 300 employees. It is expected that more terminations are to come. VUMC executives have stated that budget cuts as well as a downturn in the health care industry were a large basis for the layoffs.

However, a team of attorneys is looking into the criteria used to determine who exactly would be laid off. The attorneys are expected to closely analyze certain aspects of those terminated including race, age, and use of family medical leave. The attorneys have stated that they will investigate “discrepancies” in the layoffs based on both federal and state laws enacted to protect employees. They have advised that a class-action lawsuit could be possible against VUMC.

Beginning in April, Vanderbilt stopped allowing hourly employees to accrue vacation time. This prohibition lasted up until the terminations occurred. The attorneys have stated that not allowing the employees to accrue vacation time for a period of time may be a large liability. The lead attorney Jerry Martin stated, “We have reason to believe that the announcement and the reasons given to the employees back in the spring about the inability to accrue vacation time was not fully transparent, nor was Vanderbilt fully forthcoming about how it found itself in that situation.”

Recently, VUMC Vice Chancellor of Health Affairs Jeff Balser sent out a memorandum to all employees outlining the reasoning for a potential reduction in staff. Claiming that the health care bubble had popped, Balser said that VUMC is experiencing declining reimbursements for services to patients insured by Medicare and Medicaid as well as declining support for research.

One of those terminated was 52-year-old Roger Sparks. He said that he was just handed a letter of termination after working at VUMC for nearly 20 years. According to Sparks, the letter said that the termination had to do with budgetary concerns as well as work performance. Sparks stated that he believes that the termination is a result of possible age discrimination. Sparks stated that he had not received any prior notices indicating poor work performance.

Vanderbilt has not commented on the workers’ allegations of possible wrongdoing or the potential legal action. This will be an interesting case to monitor as time goes on. With more jobs cuts to come at VUMC, there is a greater chance of potential legal action against Vanderbilt.
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In Tennessee and all across the country due to the economy and other problems many companies and businesses have been forced to have major layoffs in an effort to save money and to avoid other business troubles. This means that many Tennessee employees may be affected by these layoffs. It is important as a Tennessee employee that you know about the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act or WARN act and what your rights are if you lose your job due to a layoff or business closing. If this has happened to you or someone you work with, you should speak to a Tennessee employment lawyer right away for more information about your rights.

In a recent case, the ESPN Zone restaurant closed unexpectedly on June 16, 2010 and approximately one hundred and fifty employees lost their jobs. Most of the employees were paid low hourly wages with few benefits. The employees also only found out about the closing a week before it occurred, making it difficult for them to find new employment opportunities for the summer.

Following the closing in October of 2010, United Workers, a grassroots advocacy group running a larger campaign for economic justice and human rights helped the laid off employees by filing a lawsuit claiming violations of the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act or WARN Act. On January 3, 2013, two years after the lawsuit was filed, a U.S. District judge issued a ruling that United Workers see as an important victory, stressing the importance of the federal WARN Act and starting a process that would help employees get more pay under the act. Under the WARN act, companies are required by law to give workers at least sixty days’ notice of mass layoffs and mandates that if a company fails to give adequate notice it must pay workers sixty days’ worth of wages from the date notice is given.
The federal lawsuit that was filed on behalf of the ESPN Zone employees claimed that the restaurant only gave their employees notice of the closing in the form of weekly paychecks and an end lump sum and based the amounts on the employees’ earnings during the previous six months. This is a violation of the WARN Act and U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake agreed that workers were due additional pay, launching a second ongoing legal phase in which the pay due to each individual worker will be determined. The lawsuit is also seeking class action status making all of the laid off employees eligible for compensation.
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Pursuant to the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act or WARN, an employer is required to provide their employees sixty days of written notice before any major layoffs within the company or before the company closes. Unfortunately, many companies and businesses find ways around this law or fail to follow through with it at all.

According to this case, Katherine McNeel, a former employee of Trainor Glass Co., has brought a class action lawsuit against the former employer for herself and all other people in a similar situation claiming violations related to the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act or WARN.
According to the lawsuit, on or around February 21, 2012, the Trainor Glass Company fired McNeel as part of a plant closing which means that she was entitled to receive sixty days advance written notice under the WARN Act. The company never gave McNeel sixty days notice of the plant closing or before the termination which is in violation of the WARN Act.

The lawsuit is seeking recovery for McNeel and other people in a similar situation in the amount of sixty days pay and ERISA benefits because of the company’s violation of McNeel’s rights under the WARN Act. For the compensation, McNeel has requested, “an allowed wage priority claim against the defendant in favor of the plaintiff and class members equal to the sum of: (a) unpaid wages, salary, commissions, bonuses, accrued holiday pay, accrued vacation pay, pension and 401(k) contributions and other ERISA benefits, for 60 days, that would have been covered and paid under the then applicable employee benefit plans had that coverage continued for that period.”

McNeel has also asked that the lawsuit be certified as a class action lawsuit. Trainor Glass closed in February and filed for Chapter 11 on March 9th. The lawsuit was part of the bankruptcy case.
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