Lawsuit claims Philadelphia Energy Solutions failed to give workers ample warning of layoffs

Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery in South Philadelphia. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery in South Philadelphia. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

This article originally appeared on StateImpact.

A federal lawsuit has been filed on behalf of workers recently laid off from their jobs at the Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery in south Philadelphia following an explosion and fire that destroyed part of the plant last Friday.

The suit claims that on Wednesday, the company brought about 1,000 workers, including 614 union members, to a room and told them the layoffs would be effective Monday, with no severance pay.

The lawsuit accuses the company of violating the federal WARN Act, which requires employers of more than 100 workers give 60 days notice of massive job loss, or provide severance pay.

The lawsuit, filed today in Eastern District Court in Philadelphia, says the company’s actions deprived “workers and their families some transition time to adjust to the prospective loss of employment, to seek and obtain alternative jobs and, if necessary, to enter skill training or retraining that will allow these workers to successfully compete in the job market.”

The lawsuit was brought by Nathan Rutkowski of Westmont, N.J. and Martin Harper of Media, Pa. Rutkowski worked at the plant for 6 1/2 years, while Harper has been employed by the plant for seven.

Mike Dunn, a spokesperson for Mayor Jim Kenney, said PES notified Kenney it planned to lay off workers. But he declined to say whether that notification was “legally sufficient.”

The law allows for some exceptions, including unforeseeable circumstances.

Attorney Ben Johns, who represents the workers, says in this case, the financial health of the company, including last year’s bankruptcy, precludes that.

“We detailed a number of different explosions, fires, and similar situations here that led up to this,” Johns said.

“There’s a lot of anecdotal evidence out there that they may not have been putting as much of their resources into things that would have prevented something like this happening as one might expect.”

The lawsuit is a proposed class action, which would need approval by the courts to grant a class certification that would allow all employees to be included in the lawsuit.

“This has been devastating to a lot of families and there’s no guarantee that we will prevail,” Johns said. “But we really think we are in the right here. And we look forward to doing what we can to bring justice to these folks.”

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