East Bay News

Former NUMMI workers file class-action lawsuit

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Seven former NUMMI plant workers filed a class action lawsuit Wednesday, claiming they were denied access to the same severance package and benefits afforded to co-workers when the Fremont plant closed at the end of March.

The former employees, some of whom had up to 19 years of service, were all on medical leave for work-related injuries. The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Oakland. It claims that the employees faced discrimination in violation of federal disabilities and employment laws.

Lead attorney Antonio Lawson says it's believed as many as 300 former NUMMI workers could be covered by this lawsuit. While the suit does not specify an amount of money to be recovered, one member of the legal team indicated it could be $10 million or more when one factors in future pay lost by not having access to skills retraining programs.

The lawsuit names NUMMI, Toyota Motor Corporation and Toyota Motor Sales USA as defendants. Mike Michels, vice president of external communications at Toyota Motor Sales, said he had not seen the lawsuit and could not comment. There has been no response so far to email and phone messages left at NUMMI.

The former employees filing the lawsuit gathered outside the Federal Building in Oakland to detail their individual situation. David Axton of Modesto, who was shy two months of 19 years at NUMMI, began to cry as he explained how much NUMMI had been like a family when he began working at the now-closed auto plant when he was in his early 20s. Now, he says, he and his wife worry they may lose their house. He is still out on disability from shoulder surgery for a rotator cuff injury he says occurred on the job. Axton delivered parts to the assembly line.

One by one, the former NUMI workers complained that they were not told of retraining programs funded by the federal government. They also complained that because they were on medical leave, their years of service were not factored into severance pay. So, they were offered $21,000, which attorneys said was the minimum amount of severance for those with the least seniority. They were told they had to sign a waiver not to sue the company in order to receive payment. In some cases, they did. In other cases, they did not. Attorney Brad Seligman argued that requiring the release to be signed was an example of coercion, which he thinks should nullify the document.

We'll have more on this developing story later today on ABC7 News at 6.

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nummi, toyota, lawsuit, east bay news, david louie
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