Employees of the Mayfield, Kentucky, candle factory that was destroyed by a tornado, killing at least eight workers, have filed a lawsuit against the company and are asking for class action status.
Elijah Johnson, the plaintiff in the lawsuit, told NBC News that he and other employees asked to leave work on the night the tornado hit but that supervisors told him he would be fired if he left.
Mayfield Consumer Products, the company in question, has denied this report through a spokesperson.
The attorneys representing Johnson, one from Washington D.C. and the other from Lexington, said in a press release that other tornado victims also reached out to them to file a lawsuit. They are not being named “because of real-time reprisals that already have begun and expanded,” the press release said.
The lawsuit says that Mayfield Consumer Products violated Kentucky Occupational Safety and Health law when it allegedly did not let workers leave. The lawsuit also says that the company had three hours to send workers home, between when the first tornado siren went off and when the tornado hit.
On Tuesday, Mayfield Consumer Products CEO Troy Popes sent out a statement saying that the company has retained an independent “expert team” to review the actions of its management team and employees on the night of the tornado.
“We’re confident that our team leaders acted entirely appropriately and were, in fact, heroic in their efforts to shelter our employees,” Popes said. “We are hearing accounts from a few employees that our procedures were not followed. We’re going to do a thorough review of what happened, and we’re asking these experts to critique our emergency plans and to offer any suggestions on ways they may be improved, if any.”
The lawsuit requests class-action status to include other employees who were working at the time of the tornado. Over 100 people were laboring in the factory at the time, reportedly hurrying to fill orders for the holiday season.
Kentucky law requires businesses to provide “a workplace free from serious, recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.” The lawsuit says those hazards include a tornado. And, by allegedly refusing to let workers go home, the company “showed flagrant indifference to the rights” of the employees, according to the lawsuit.
The Kentucky Division of Occupational Safety and Health Compliance is set to investigate Mayfield Consumer Products as well.
“It shouldn’t suggest that there was any wrongdoing,” said Gov. Andy Beshear, on Tuesday. “But what it should give people confidence in, is that we’ll get to the bottom of what happened.”
State Senate Minority Floor Leader Morgan McGarvey tweeted out that amid “disturbing reports” from Western Kentucky, he plans to file a bill this upcoming legislative session that will “hold accountable those who force workers to stay and risk their lives during severe weather.”
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