LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Eight workers who survived the candle factory collapse in last December’s Western Kentucky tornadoes filed a class action lawsuit last week alleging false imprisonment and defamation of character.
The plaintiffs, who were among the 110 people working at the Mayfield Consumer Products factory on the night of December 10, claim they were threatened with termination if they left and accuse the company of inadequate emergency preparation.
The suit adds to an initial class action complaint filed in mid-December by worker Elijah Johnson.
“Further investigation has revealed the depth of the liability and willful acts that caused these harms,” Attorney Amos Jones said in a release. “Fifty hours of interviews and research compelled seven more victims to step up as Class Representatives on behalf of the more than 100 employees trapped that Friday night in their workplace, and they have sworn under oath to the truthfulness of their claims on the Complaint itself.”
Several of the workers who added their name to the suit allege that supervisors told them they would be fired if they left work, despite knowledge that storms were bearing down on Mayfield. They also say they heard the same supervisors telling other workers the same.
"MCP had up to three and one-half hours before the tornado struck its place of business to allow its employees and others to leave its worksite as a safety precaution," the lawsuit claims.
In a statement, MCP spokesperson Chris Talley said, "MCP intends to defend against the allegations in the complaint, including the allegations made against its supervisors on duty that night, who acted heroically in the face of the challenges presented."
The suit also includes new information from those inside the factory. Plaintiff John Lawson, a recent Nevada transplant, had only been on the job one week when the storm hit. He claims to have told supervisors that if a similar storm were forecast in Nevada, workers would have been sent home to avoid the same type of tragic situation that would eventually befall the candle factory. His supervisor laughed and said, “Welcome to Kentucky,” according to the complaint.
The suit accuses MCP of failing to properly train workers on safety protocols as well. Several workers say they never received any training at all, while others say all they were ever told was to go to the facility’s emergency shelter area.
Former employees made similar claims to Spectrum News after the storm. Both Kyanna Parsons-Perez and Jamie Brien said they never participated in safety drills but were showed the interior hallways where they were supposed to gather in emergencies.
The complaint also accuses Bob Ferguson, who served as a spokesperson for MCP in the aftermath of the tornadoes, of defaming several of the employees by publicly contradicting their claims about what happened at the factory. In December, Ferguson told multiple media outlets that employees were able to leave the factory, contrary to the claims there were making.
“If an employee felt it was in their best interest to leave, they certainly had that option,” he told Spectrum days after the tornado hit.