A former employee of Columbus-based Bill Heard Enterprises has filed a federal lawsuit claiming the automobile dealership group violated federal labor law when it abruptly shut down two weeks ago.
Four days after closing its 14 dealerships from Nevada to Florida, Heard Enterprises filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Northern District of Alabama.
According to the employee lawsuit filed in that same court, Bill Heard Enterprises, Inc., and about two dozen subsidiaries, were required by the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act to give at least 60 days advance written notice of the employee terminations and continue paying certain wages, salary, and benefits during the notice period in accordance with federal law.
The suit seeks WARN Act-required wages, salary, commissions, bonuses, accrued holiday pay, accrued vacation pay, pension and 401(k) contributions, and other benefits that would have been paid or covered during the notice period, and attorneys’ fees and litigation-related costs.
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Former Bill Heard employee Edward Kratzel, who worked at one of two Las Vegas dealerships, filed the lawsuit. His attorneys, Outten & Golden LLP in New York, are seeking to make it a class-action suit.
"Employers bound by the WARN Act and other labor laws cannot be allowed to compound the difficulties of abruptly laid-off employees," said attorney Jack A. Raisner in a news release. "It’s time for ‘Mr. Big Volume,’ as Mr. Heard called himself, to ensure that his employees survive this transition in accordance with the law.”
Calls to Heard Enterprises' attorneys Burr & Forman in Birmingham were not returned. Bill Heard employees were terminated without severance pay.
“Employees of the Bill Heard companies around the nation should have been given more time to prepare for the closing of company facilities. Because of the WARN Act, we hope that this lawsuit will prevent employers like Bill Heard from avoiding their obligations to the workers who helped him generate billions of dollars of revenue through the years," Kratzel said in a news release.
About 2,700 Heard Enterprises employees lost their jobs when the company failed. More than 300 of those worked for the flagship dealership in Columbus.
When the company filed for bankruptcy, it had more than $260 million in debt and 13,000 potential creditors spread across the nation. In the company's bankruptcy filing, Heard Enterprises suffered from a "financial liquidity crisis" that made it necessary to immediately cease operations.