A federal judge has certified a class action lawsuit in the third of four cases filed by a Beckley attorney against Bluestone Coal Corporation.
The suit, certified Monday by U.S. District Court Judge Irene Berger, and filed by Sam Petsonk of Mountain State Justice, alleges that miners at Burke Mountain Strip Mine in Wyoming County were laid off from full-time employment without a 60-day notice required by the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) by Bluestone Coal Corporation, Bluestone Industries Inc. or Mechel Bluestone from Dec. 27, 2011, through March 26, 2012.
Berger set a trial date for April 30.
The suit alleges that miners from the three companies were verbally laid off without prior notice from their jobs at Burke Mountain Strip Mine.
Designed to protect workers’ rights, the WARN Act requires employers to give workers two months’ notice prior to a layoff. If the employer fails to do so, the WARN Act provides a legal pathway for workers to recoup damages.
“The WARN Act is intended to give workers fair notice before their lives are disrupted by the loss of a job,” Petsonk said. “Essentially, you’re entitled under the WARN Act to have two months of advance notice.
“If the company fails to give you advance notice, you’re entitled to sue to recover two months of wages so you can have the same sort of economic situation you would’ve had.”
Petsonk added, “We believe there are about 105 people who are covered by the class action, as it was defined. That number may change as we learn more about the site and the layoffs.”
Fifty miners allege to have been laid off in violation of the WARN Act from the Burke Mountain Strip Mine near the southern border of Wyoming County around December 2011.
To bring a suit under the WARN Act, at least 50 people and 33 percent of the workers must be laid off.
Petsonk said his firm is currently locating additional miners who worked at Burke Mountain Strip Mine at Keystone between those dates.
“The certification of a class action does not mean that the plaintiffs have won,” he explained. “But it does mean that the defendants will have to pay the penalties to the entire class if we do prevail at the trial.”
The town of Keystone is eligible to seek $30,000 in damages, under the WARN Act, said Petsonk.
The legal penalty in the Burke Mountain case is equal to two months of wages for each laid-off worker and the payment to the local unit of government.
“We will be working with the Bluestone companies to secure the last known addresses and telephone numbers for all eligible miners,” said Petsonk. “However, because the layoffs occurred so long ago, miners who were laid off during that period at Burke Mountain may call our office in Beckley to ensure that we have current information for including them in the class action.”
Union and non-union miners were impacted by the layoff, said Petsonk.
Petsonk is accepting contact information from miners who were laid off anywhere on Burke Mountain, including Jobs 32, 34, 39 and the preparation plants known as Keystone and K2.
Miners who were laid off at Burke Mountain in October 2012 (including at Pay Car Mining) may also contact him.
Mountain State Justice has secured tentative settlements in two previous cases against the Bluestone companies involving the Double Bonus Mine No. 65 and the Coal Mountain Surface Mine.
Berger must approve those settlements.
Petsonk has filed a fourth WARN Act case against the Bluestone companies, as of Friday.
Mechel Bluestone is owned by Gov. Jim Justice.
Justice sold Mechel Bluestone in 2009 to Russia’s OAO Mechel for a combination of cash and Mechel stock valued at $568 million. He purchased the mines back for $5 million in February 2015, reopening some mine locations and creating around 150 jobs.
Petsonk urged employees to contact Mountain State Justice at 681-207-7510.