New lawsuit filed by workers in Ky. factory hit by tornado

Dec 8, 2022, 12:57 AM | Updated: 3:05 pm

MAYFIELD, Ky. (AP) — A group of workers who claim they were not allowed to leave a Kentucky candle factory before a tornado destroyed the building have filed a second lawsuit against the company.

The suit filed Thursday in Graves County accuses Mayfield Consumer Products and one of its supervisors of false imprisonment and infliction of emotional distress. The complaint includes the families of three workers who died when the tornado hit the plant on Dec. 10, 2021.

Some of the same workers had joined a federal class action lawsuit that made similar claims. The storms killed dozens of people across the state, including six at the Mayfield plant.

Several of the plaintiffs said they were told they would be “terminated” if they left as the storm approached, according to the lawsuit. One of those workers, Elijah Johnson, said in media accounts last year that he walked into a supervisor’s office with a group of employees who were asking to leave. Johnson said he “asked to leave and they told me I’d be fired,” the lawsuit said. Johnson was injured and hospitalized after the storm hit.

The company has disputed Johnson’s claim. A statement released by its lawyer last month said Johnson told another employee that he was told not to leave after the factory told employees to shelter in place. The company said Johnson had clocked in to work about 15 minutes before that happened, the statement said.

On Thursday, a spokesman for the company said in an email they had not reviewed the new lawsuit but said the supervisor who communicated with employees “was a hero on the night of the tornado and (the company) will zealously defend any claims made against him.”

The lawsuit says the company had more than three hours of notice that severe weather was approaching the area. It alleges the company did not train its employees in emergency safety procedures and had just a central hallway and two bathrooms for 110 employees to shelter in during the tornado.

Last month, a group of workers, including Johnson, alleged in a filing with the National Labor Relations Board that the company was interfering with worker compensation benefits because they participated in an Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigation.

The company has been fined $40,000 by OSHA for violations of federal labor law.

The company said in a statement last month that it complied with the OSHA investigation “to the best of its ability and even facilitated several employee interviews.”

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