Times Staff Writer @email Former employees seek class action status over shutdown
DECATUR - The lawyers representing Bill Heard Chevrolet Enterprises in federal bankruptcy court have asked for a postponement of a hearing seeking certification of petitions for class action status filed by former employees.
A class action lawsuit would consolidate into one court the claims of all former Bill Heard employees in several states that arise under federal law.
A dozen Bill Heard Chevrolet dealerships nationwide, including the one in Huntsville, shut down on Sept. 24. On Sept. 28, Bill Heard filed for bankruptcy protection under Chapter 11 of the federal bankruptcy law in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Decatur.
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A New York law firm, through a lawyer in Birmingham, filed a similar petition in bankruptcy court in Decatur on behalf of Edward Kratzel, a former employee of a Bill Heard dealership in Las Vegas. Kratzel's petition was filed on Oct. 6.
A lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court is also seeking class action certification for all Bill Heard employees and is still pending. Lawyers in both cases are seeking damages and restitution because of an alleged violation of a federal labor law, the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act. The law requires most employers with 100 or more employees to provide 60-day advance notification of plant closings and mass layoffs of employees.
The notice gives workers time to look for new jobs and skill training or re-training programs.
Kratzel's petition, filed by Birmingham lawyer Mark Williams, says the Bill Heard dealership in Las Vegas employed more that 100 employees.
The petition seeks certification to include all current employees of Bill Heard Enterprises when the dealership shut down.
In its bankruptcy petition, the dealership reported $229 million in debt related to its automobile inventory and $40 million in unsecured debt. The company also owes state taxes and wages to employees, among other costs.
U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Jack Caddell had scheduled a hearing on the petitions for Nov. 6. But Bill Heard's lawyers asked Caddell on Monday for more time to prepare for the hearing.
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