April 23, 2015: WARN Act cases settle for $1.7M

(Last Updated On: February 2, 2017)

Three class action lawsuits arising from coalfield layoffs in 2013 have produced settlements totaling $1.735 million.

The suits under the federal WARN Act alleged the coal mining companies, all controlled by Appalachian coal billionaire Jim Justice, laid off approximately 233 employees in 2013 without providing the required 60-day advance notice.

The WARN Act generally requires covered employers to provide 60 days’ notice before a mass layoff or plant closing.

Settlement was reached in two cases after a federal judge in Abingdon ruled in September that one of the mining companies was subject to the notice requirements of the WARN Act. The decision turned on the method used to determine the applicable number of employees.

U.S. District Judge James P. Jones rejected the company’s claim that unusual circumstances made it unfair to use the default method of counting employees on the date that notice should have been given.

The decision is Sullivan v. Nine Mile Mining (VLW 014-3-474).

Jones later ruled that the employees were not entitled to a jury trial under the WARN Act.

After Jones’ summary judgment ruling, leaving only the issue of damages, the parties resolved those two cases at mediation with U.S. Magistrate Judge Pamela Meade Sargent, reported Paul G. Beers of Roanoke, a lawyer for the employees.

One of the class actions settled prior to trial for $625,000, while the other settled for $745,000, for a total recovery of $1.37 million, Beers said. The court approved both settlements after affording class members an opportunity to file objections. None objected, Beers said.

The laid off employees worked at two Wise County affiliates of Southern Coal Corp., controlled by Justice.

Jones will consider a proposed settlement agreement May 5 in a separate WARN Act case against another Justice-owned mine.

The company has agreed to pay $365,000 to resolve claims on behalf of 78 miners laid off from the A & G Coal Corp.

“In these cases, the judge has to approve settlements. They have what’s called a fairness hearing,” explained Roanoke lawyer Todd A. Leeson, who represented the coal companies in all three actions.

There is a mechanism to provide notice to affected former employees and allow them time to object.

The judge also approves the amount of attorneys’ fees.

Beers said the legal team in the first two actions cut their  fees from one third to 27 and 28 percent to provide more money to class members.

Leeson said the defendants did not concede any liability in making the settlements.

Last year, Justice reached a $1.5 million settlement with Kentucky officials over dozens of violations at coal mines in eastern Kentucky.

Justice confirmed this week he is considering a bid for West Virginia governor.

Read more: http://valawyersweekly.com/2015/04/23/warn-act-cases-settle-for-1-7m/#ixzz3dourB82P

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