Workers at a Kentucky candle factory that was destroyed by a tornado over the weekend have now filed a lawsuit against their employer alleging that they were threatened with termination if they left the facility in the hours leading up to the deadly disaster.
The lawsuit filed against Mayfield Consumer Products in state court – which seeks compensatory and punitive damages – comes as the death toll from the severe weather in Kentucky has risen to 76, according to the Associated Press. Eight of those deaths happened at the candle factory in Mayfield.
The lawsuit claims the factory had “up to three and half hours before the tornado hit its place of business to allow its employees to leave its worksite as safety precautions.” It added that the company showed “flagrant indifference to the rights” of the workers and violated Kentucky occupational safety and health workplace standards by refusing to do so.
Factory employee Haley Conder told the AP on Tuesday that a supervisor threatened her with written disciplinary action if she went home early because storms were approaching.
Conder questioned why the company did not encourage workers to go home — or at least give them a better understanding of the danger — between a first tornado siren around 6 p.m. Friday and another one around 9 p.m., shortly before the tornado hit.
The only plaintiff identified in the lawsuit is Elijah Johnson, who was working the night shift at the candle factory when the storm struck. The wording of the lawsuit says it was filed by Johnson and on behalf of “others similarly situated.” The “others” aren’t identified by name for “fear of reprisal,” Amos Jones, a Washington, D.C.-based attorney representing employees, told the AP Thursday.
Bob Ferguson, speaking on behalf of the company located in the western Kentucky town of Mayfield, previously insisted that employees were free to leave anytime, and he denied that they would have faced retribution if they left the factory.
The company’s CEO, Troy Propes, said in a statement Wednesday that the company was retaining “an independent expert team” to review the actions of managers and employees leading up to when the tornado struck the factory.
“We’re confident that our team leaders acted entirely appropriately and were, in fact, heroic in their efforts to shelter our employees,” Propes said. “We are hearing accounts from a few employees that our procedures were not followed. We’re going to do a thorough review of what happened.”
Meanwhile, the body of missing teenager Nyssa Brown was found Thursday in Bowling Green, making her the seventh member of her family to die in the tornado that swept through that area last week.
Warren County coroner Kevin Kirby said the 13-year-old’s body was found Thursday morning in a wooded area near her subdivision.
The girl’s parents, three siblings ranging in age from 4 to 16, and a grandmother also died in the tornado, the AP reported.
Kirby added that eight children were among the 12 victims who died on a single street in Bowling Green, Moss Creek Avenue. Also among the dozen were five relatives from another family.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.