Suniva violated WARN Act provisions in layoffs, employees say

As if Suniva’s recent financial troubles, which forced them to lay off workers at their Georgia headquarters and close its Michigan plant in March, weren’t enough.

Now approximately 200 employees affected by the layoffs – and court documents indicate that may not be a final number – have filed a class-action suit against the company, alleging it violated the provisions of the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN Act). The federal law requires employers with 100 or more employees to provide 60 calendar-day advance notification of plant closings and mass layoffs of employees, as defined in the Act.

Papers filed by the plaintiffs in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan last week allege that the 131 employees laid off in Georgia were informed that they were being let go on March 29, effective the following day. The suit alleges the same scenario also played out with the 59 Michigan employees.

Clearly, if the court finds Suniva truly did give its employees only 24-hours notice of the layoffs, it would seem – at least on the surface – to violate the terms of the WARN Act. The plaintiffs are asking for damages in the amount that equals the 60 days of pay they would have received had they been given proper notice, as well as an unspecified amount “for reasonable attorney’s fees and costs” and “such other and further relief, in law or equity, as this Court may deem appropriate and just.”

As pv magazine reported on March 30, Suniva was only the latest casualty resulting from the precipitously plummeting solar module prices that picked up steam in the second half of 2016. The layoffs came as something of a surprise to the industry because as recently as this past fall the company said it had planned to increase its cell capacity to 400 MW in Georgia. So the “temporary” shutdown in Georgia and the layoffs of 33% of its employees came as a shock to most.

Leading up to the layoffs, sources also told the Atlanta Business Chronicle that Suniva’s vendors were not being paid.