Charleston area workers who sued over lost jobs at American LaFrance reach 6-figure settlement

Two former workers filed a labor lawsuit seeking class-action status against American LaFrance after the emergency-vehicle manufacturer went out of business in early 2014.

Former American LaFrance employees who sued the Moncks Corner-based vehicle manufacturer after losing their jobs early last year have settled the case for $671,000.

Lawyers for Olivia Schreiner and James Schreiner said a lump-sum payment of $385,000 is the equivalent of six weeks of severance package for about 100 fired workers who are eligible to receive a cut of the money.

The rest of the settlement proceeds will go toward legal fees and other expenses.

The deal requires court approval. A hearing date has not been set.

The money will be paid by American LaFrance and Patriarch Partners LLC, a New York financier that controlled the Berkeley County manufacturer.

The settlement stemmed from a March 4 mediation session, according to a court document.

“Given the precarious financial position of American LaFrance, which ceases to exist or hold meaningful assets, and the inherent risks associated with a protracted legal battle, this settlement compensates the employees, helping them as they transition to the next chapter of their lives” said attorney James L. Ward Jr. of Richardson Patrick Westbrook & Brickman, which represents the workers.

A representative for Patriarch Partners and the company’s local attorney did not respond to requests for comment. In a complaint seeking class-action status, the Schreiners last year alleged American LaFrance violated labor law by not providing proper notice about the shutdown in mid-January 2014. They worked for the company for about 10 years before it abruptly closed its doors in South Carolina and two other states as its finances rapidly deteriorated.

The Charleston lawsuit cited 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 complaint named the manufacturer and Patriarch Partners, which attorneys for the workers said owned, managed and controlled American LaFrance. The investment firm asked to be dismissed from the lawsuit, saying it was merely a financial adviser. U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel denied that request.

American LaFrance and its predecessors had been building fire engines and firefighting equipment for about 180 years.

It employed about 500 workers when it went out of business, including about 100 in Moncks Corner. The fired workers at the other locations did not qualify for compensation from the lawsuit because the headcount at those facilities did not meet federal thresholds, Ward said.

All eligible former employees will receive written notice of the settlement and additional notifications about the process. Payments will vary depending on individual circumstances.

Contact John McDermott at 937-5572.