Two Philadelphia Energy Solutions employees have sued the company, alleging that it failed to comply with city and federal laws before they were abruptly sacked last week after a devastating fire June 21 that crippled the South Philadelphia refinery.
Nathan Rutkowski, of Westmont, and Martin Harper, of Media, filed the suit in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia on Friday, alleging that PES failed to comply with federal and city Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Acts (WARN). Those laws require larger employees to give workers at least 60 days notice of a layoff, allowing them time to adjust and seek alternative jobs.
The lawsuit seeks class-action status, and was filed by Benjamin F. Johns, a partner with Chimicles Schwartz Kriner & Donaldson-Smith LLP in Haverford.
PES’s 1,100 employees were told Wednesday that the company would close in early July because of damage sustained after the June 21 fire; some nonunion workers were discharged immediately, as of Monday. They were offered no severance. Most refinery workers initially learned of the closure from news reports followed by an announcement from Mayor Jim Kenney’s office.
“Unfortunately, it was not feasible for PES to provide earlier notice because the business circumstances that followed the fire and explosion were not reasonably foreseeable,” the company said in a notification to employees who lost their jobs, explaining why they were not given 60 days’ notice.
The refinery had been struggling financially even before the fire and explosion prompted a decision to close. It has not declared bankruptcy.
The lawsuit by the two employees, who are inspectors, alleges that the company’s failure to comply with the warning notices deprived them of "some transition time to adjust to the prospective loss of employment, to seek and obtain alternative jobs and, if necessary, to enter skill training or retraining that will allow these workers to successfully compete in the job market.”