Dozens of ex-employees of Frasure Creek Mining LLC and parent Trinity Coal Corp. filed suit July 20 against the companies over accusations that the companies violated the 60-day layoff warning required under the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act.
The lawsuit, filed at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky, covers former workers at operations in Perry, Breathitt, Knott, Magoffin, Floyd and Pike counties in eastern Kentucky. As of March 2012, the Perry County operation was one of the larger employers in Perry County and employed more than 300 individuals, the lawsuit said.
The worker lawsuit pointed to a March 19 lawsuit that Trinity Coal filed in this same federal court against the South Carolina Public Service Authority (also known as Santee Cooper). In that lawsuit, Trinity Coal said an improper termination of a 2008-2013 contract by the utility had endangered its mining operations in eastern Kentucky and their continued viability. As of March 19, the day on which the complaint was filed, Trinity Coal alleged it had already been forced to idle its mining operations and had already laid off workers.
The ex-workers filing the July 20 lawsuit said that, individually and acting through a group of representatives, they questioned Frasure Creek and Trinity Coal management about the allegations on the news related to the Santee Cooper lawsuit and were told those allegations had been made for the purposes of the lawsuit and that their jobs were secure. In reliance upon the representations of Trinity Coal and Frasure Creek management, the plaintiffs said they did not look for other work. On or around March 28, the plaintiffs, along with their paychecks, received a letter from Doug Blackburn, President of Trinity Coal. The letter did not indicate that any of the plaintiffs were about to lose their jobs. In fact, it indicated the opposite. The ex-workers said the letter stated: “MARK YOUR CALENDARS! When we look back – we can say that it started to turn on 28 March 12.”
Then on or around April 2, approximately 29 employees were terminated by Frasure Creek and Trinity Coal. On or around April 12 or 13, the remaining employees at the Perry County operation of Trinity Coal and Frasure Creek were terminated and the Perry County operation, along with operations in other counties, was shut down, said the lawsuit.
WARN covers private employers who have 100 or more employees and Trinity Coal and Frasure Creek are subject to the WARN requirements, which mandates a 60-day warning of an impending layoff, the lawsuit noted. They want judgment against the companies for actual damages, plus general and compensatory damages.
The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration database lists 11 mines and facilities for Frasure Creek Mining in eastern Kentucky, with five of them counted as currently active and six as “nonproducing.”