An investment firm closely associated for years with American LaFrance is asking to be dismissed from an employment lawsuit involving the firetruck maker.
Patriarch Partners LLC says in court documents it shouldn't be named as a defendant in the case because its doesn't own the failed vehicle venture.
At issue is a lawsuit brought by former American LaFrance workers who say the Moncks Corner-based company violated labor law by not providing proper notice about the shutdown in mid-January.
Olivia Schreiner and James Schreiner worked for American LaFrance for 10 years before the manufacturer terminated all employees and closed its doors in Berkeley County and two other locations.
Their lawsuit cites the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, which requires most companies with 100 or more employees to provide written notice at least 60 calendar days before a factory shutdown or mass layoff.
The case named both the manufacturer and Patriarch Partners, which the Schreiners' attorneys said owned, managed and controlled "all aspects" of American LaFrance.
That's not true, countered Lynn Tilton, the founder and CEO of New York-based Patriarch Partners.
In a Feb. 24 affidavit, Tilton says her firm is the "collateral manager" for several unidentified investment funds that make loans to and take ownership stakes in struggling businesses. One of those 70 "portfolio" companies is American LaFrance.
Tilton said her firm's role is limited to picking the investments and monitoring the loans.
"Patriarch itself does not have an ownership interest, either direct or indirect, in the funds or the portfolio companies," she said.
She also said her firm had no role in American LaFrance's decision to lay off its employees.
Mount Pleasant attorney Jay Ward, who represents the Schreiners, said he wasn't surprised by Tilton's request to be dismissed from the case.
"We have 14 days to respond ... and we believe we will be able to demonstrate to the court why Patriarch is a proper defendant," Ward said in a statement this week.
No hearing has been scheduled.
American LaFrance had about 500 employees in South Carolina, Pennsylvania and California, according to the lawsuit. The complaint seeks continuation of medical coverage, pay for unused vacation and sick days, and other forms of compensation for 60 days after the closing date.
Tilton was in Charleston to announce the purchase of American LaFrance from Freightliner nine years ago. At the time, the acquired business was "on the verge of liquidation," her firm says in a Feb. 19 statement.
"Over the ensuing years, the ... lenders worked in good faith to support American LaFrance so that the company could continue operating and supporting thousands of local jobs," the statement says. "The ... lenders continued to invest in American LaFrance in the expectation of a turnaround. Unfortunately, despite these efforts, American LaFrance was forced to close when the company's financial situation suddenly and unexpectedly deteriorated to the point where it was clear the company could not be saved."
American LaFrance and its predecessors had been building fire engines and firefighting equipment for about 180 years.
Contact John McDermott at 937-5572.
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