COLUMBIA, S.C. (CN) – In a federal class action filed on the eve of Labor Day, workers claim that Boozer Lumber Co. illegally laid off 160 people without proper notice. The mass layoffs on July 2 came amid the nationwide collapse of the housing market.
The 10 named plaintiffs say the South Carolina mill and wood truss factory violated the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act when it gave them just 10 days notice of the mill’s closure.
Dale Boozer, owner of the 62-year-old company, circulated an internal memorandum on the impending closure on June 19, and immediately began a phased termination process that continued through July 2, when the facility shut its doors, the complaint states.
Allen Smith, of Childs and Halligan P.A. in Columbia, one of two attorneys representing the aggrieved workers, said in an interview that under the WARN Act, Boozer Lumber was obligated to give its workers at least 60 days notice of a mass layoff or plant closure.
“By failing to do so, Boozer is now liable for 60 days pay and benefits for each of these workers, as well as any medical expenses they may have incurred in the 60 days before the abrupt closure of this mill,” Smith said.
“In addition, in closing its facility, Boozer failed to pay these employees for any accrued vacation time they may have had,” he said.
Herbert Louthian Jr. is co-counsel.
Boozer Lumber invested nearly $4 million in improvements to its mill and manufacturing plant during the housing boom of 2005 and 2006, but found itself struggling when the housing market went belly-up during the lingering credit crisis.
The company cut about 10% of its work force last year in a failed bid for survival.
That staff reduction could pre-empt the company from claiming the most widely cited exemption to the WARN Act – that the plant closing was an unforeseen event, the attorneys said.
Smith said the fired workers were given no explanation why they received such short notice.
Still to be determined is whether the company has any assets left with which to make the workers whole. Smith, who has litigated two previous WARN Act cases, said the answer “is something we just don’t know yet and won’t know until discovery.”
Smith said his two prior WARN Act cases had mixed results. In the first, against a manufacturing company, he said he was able to get the workers what they were owed.
“The second case was against a textile company and they were on much shakier financial ground than the first company,” he said. “Unfortunately, in the second case, we had to settle for less than the workers had coming to them.”
The company was founded by Dale Boozer’s father, William L. Boozer, shortly after his return to the states after serving as an army radar officer during World War II.
In its heyday, Boozer Lumber was one of South Carolina’s largest independent building suppliers, selling lumber, trusses for floors and roofs, as well as cabinets, windows and doors to contractors.
Published reports said that Boozer Lumber, which owned no other mills, posted sales of $46 million in 2006, but sales had dropped precipitously since then and efforts to find a buyer failed.
Dale Boozer told The State newspaper in Columbia, “We planned to be in business forever.” He added, “Maybe we should have made adjustments a little sooner.”
The company is selling off equipment and its 35-acre property, which includes 24 buildings.