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SCANA says it shouldn't be on the hook for laid-off workers' claims after cancelling nuclear project

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Workers direct cranes at the now-abandoned V.C. Summer construction site in Fairfield County. The project's cancellation caused one of the state's largest layoffs in recent memory, cutting nearly 6,000 jobs. File/Grace Beahm/Staff

As the courts begin to sift through a tangled web of lawsuits filed in the wake of the failed V.C. Summer nuclear project, SCANA Corp. says it should be left out of one set of them.

SCANA, the owner of South Carolina Electric & Gas, said this week it shouldn’t be on the hook for claims filed on behalf of the thousands of construction workers who were abruptly laid off when the Midlands job site was shuttered in late July.

That’s the case the power company made Wednesday in federal court, arguing that it isn’t responsible for how the contractors it hired handled the layoffs. Workers have filed a raft of lawsuits saying they’re owed extra pay because they weren’t given enough notice about the impending shutdown at V.C. Summer.

SCANA and its partner at V.C. Summer, state-owned utility Santee Cooper, were adding two reactors to the Fairfield County power plant, but they decided to walk away after finding their costs had more than doubled and construction delays would stretch on for years. The July 31 shutdown cost nearly 6,000 workers their jobs, one of the largest layoffs in recent South Carolina history.

The decision has triggered a flurry of lawsuits from electric customers, suppliers and SCANA investors. It also has spurred investigations by a federal grand jury, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the State Law Enforcement Division, while stirring a political uproar, because the utilities spent $9 billion before abandoning the deal.

At least five worker lawsuits have been filed so far, mostly targeting the project’s lead contractor, Westinghouse Electric Co., and the company that oversaw construction, Fluor Corp.

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SCANA said about 36 subcontractors were working on the nuclear reactors, suggesting that it could take dozens of lawsuits to sort out the layoff issue.

"Plaintiff cannot simply jumble together a lawsuit by all individuals at the project who were paid by their respective employers and bring a single case against all of the companies at the project," SCANA said Wednesday in its response to the complaint.

Jack Raisner, a New York attorney who filed the worker lawsuit against SCANA, rejected that notion, saying that the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act still applied. The so-called WARN law requires that companies inform  employees about mass layoffs at least 60 days in advance, through there are legal exceptions.

"Most federal employee-protection laws, including the WARN Act, provide for an extension of responsibility to others beyond the immediate, or nominal employer," Raisner said in an email. "We contend that extension is appropriate here."

He is seeking class-action status for the lawsuit. 

Reach Thad Moore at 843-937-5703. Follow him on Twitter @thadmoore.

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