Several workers claimed they were told they’d be fired if they went home, despite severe weather conditions and potential tornadoes.
Workers at Mayfield Consumer Products in Kentucky have filed a class action against their employer, claiming they were told they would lose their jobs if they left work to avoid a set of severe storms that eventually destroyed the factory.
According to CNN, the Mayfield factory was hit by a tornado earlier this month, killing at least eight people.
The storm was part of a larger weather system that hit parts of the American South and Midwest. So far, authorities have confirmed at least 85 dead, although that number is expected to grow.
CNN reports that more than 100 people were working in the Mayfield factory when it was hit by a tornado.
At the time, Mayfield Consumer Products was running “24/7” operations in preparation for the holiday season.
Amos Jones, a Washington, D.C.-based attorney representing some of the workers, told CNN that the class action is based on Kentucky’s state-level equivalent of the federal OSHA statute.
His clients are now seeking an “unspecified amount” of financial compensation.
Elijah Johnson, a Mayfield worker and tornado survivor, signaled his anger at the company’s response to the lawsuit and its claims of negligence.
“I’ve been making statements and every statement I’ve been making they denied it, and that’s just not right,” Johnson said. “They’re neglecting everyone that’s in there.”
Johnson had earlier told CNN and other news outlets that a supervisor had told him he’d be fired if he left his post.
“I said, ‘Man, you’re going to refuse to let us leave, even if the weather is this bad and the tornado’s not here yet?’ He was like, ‘If you want to decide to leave, if you want to leave, you can leave, but you’re going to be terminated. You’re going to be fired,’” Johnson said.
While Mayfield appeared to deny threatening workers into staying, another employee corroborated Johnson’s account, saying the supervisor “told them word-for-word: ‘if you sign out, you more than likely will get fired.’”
On Tuesday, though, Mayfield said that it is “retaining an independent expert team to review the actions of our management team and employees.”
“We’re going to do a thorough review of what happened, and we’re asking these experts to critique our emergency plans and to offer any suggestions on ways they may be improved, if any,” the company said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said the state will open its own investigation into what happened.
“Everyone is expected to live up to certain standards of both the law, of safety, and of being decent human beings,” Gov. Beshear said. “I hope everybody lived up to those standards.”