LOS ANGELES -- Fisker Automotive, hours after dismissing about 75 percent of its employees, was hit with a federal lawsuit accusing the company of breaking the law that requires employers to give workers advance notice of mass layoffs.
The cash-strapped maker of luxury plug-in hybrids laid off 160 of its roughly 210 employees Friday morning (click here for related story). At about 8:30 a.m., Fisker employees were seen beginning to leave company headquarters in Anaheim, Calif., some carrying boxes and many with large white envelopes.
Several former Fisker employees interviewed by Automotive News outside Fisker's headquarters said they were given no severance pay, other than compensation for unused vacation days.
According to the suit filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana, Calif., Fisker failed to notify the affected employees of their terminations at least 60 days ahead of time, as required by the U.S. Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, also called the WARN Act. The suit also said Fisker failed to pay the employees the wages and other benefits they would have earned in the 60 days following the layoffs.
The suit accused Fisker of violating rules set by both the federal WARN Act, and California's WARN Act. The case was filed by law firm Outten & Golden LLP on behalf of plaintiff Sven Etzelsberger, a former Fisker employee, along with "other similarly situated former employees." The suit seeks class action status.
In August, Outten & Golden won a $3.5 million settlement in a similar suit it filed against Solyndra, the government-funded solar panel manufacturer that collapsed and fell into bankruptcy last year, according to Reuters.
Fisker also violated California labor laws by failing to notify the state's Employment Development Department, the local workforce investment board, and the top elected officials in both Anaheim and Orange County of the terminations, according to the suit.
The suit says that the employees are entitled to an unspecified amount of damages, and Fisker is subject to up to a $500 civil penalty for each day it's in violation of the law. The suit is also seeking a judgment for each affected employee equal to the wages, salary, bonuses and other benefits that they would have normally earned in 60 days on the job determined in accordance with the WARN Act.
Fisker had no immediate comment on the suit, AnitaMarie Laurie of Sitrick and Co., the communications firm retained by Fisker, said when reached Friday evening.
The 60-day notification requirement in the WARN law offers exceptions for a "faltering company" and for "unforseeable business circumstances," but the employer must prove those conditions have been met, according to government guidelines on the 1989 federal law.
Fisker will retain about 53 senior managers and executives, a source told Reuters today, primarily to pursue buyers for the company's assets. Another unnamed employee verified that figure to Automotive News.
The cuts came less than a week after Fisker employees returned to work on April 1 after being furloughed on March 22. Fisker also is nearing a late-April deadline to repay some of the $193 million loaned to it by the U.S. Department of Energy.
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