A federal magistrate judge approved class certification Tuesday of a suit by former employees of now-shuttered Thelen law firm, alleging Thelen failed to give 60-days advance notice of closure and to pay for unused vacation time.
The order follows a jointly proposed class certification by lawyers for Thelen and the employees to cover a national class and subclasses for alleged violation of the federal WARN Act and California’s state version of the WARN Act.
In the suit, Bergman v. Thelen, 08-cv-5322EDL (N.Dist. Calif.), three Thelen associates and another California staffer, filed in November, days before the firm closed up Nov. 30, 2008. The suit seeks damages for lost wages under the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, (WARN), which mandates 60-day notice to employees when facilities with 50 or more workers close.
Steven A. Blum, of Blum Collins in Los Angeles, represents the former Thelen employees. “Thelen law firm was wise enough to see that it made sense to stipulate to class certification so its employees can receive the benefits they are owed in the most administratively efficient method,” he said.
Asked if sufficient funds exist for a recovery, Blum said, “From one source or another there should be a substantial recovery. From Thelen itself there are banks to contend with first and we may have to go to other sources in addition to Thelen to get maximum compensation.”
He said those other sources would include “other law firms that have taken large groups of Thelen partners and discarded the employees.”
Wayne S. Flick, of Latham & Watkins’ Los Angeles office, one of the lawyers who represents Thelen, was not available for comment.
In a second pending state class action in San Francisco, Thelen lawyers stated in the federal class certification order they would seek to stay the state action while the federal dispute is resolved. Bennett v. Thelen, CGC08-483571 (Sup. Ct. Calif.)
Thelen announced publicly on Oct. 30, 2008 that it would close its offices and dismiss all employees on Nov. 30, 2008.
The agreement approved March 31 by U.S. Magistrate Judge Elizabeth LaPorte creates a national class from New York, California and Connecticut facilities that employed more than 50 people, who were involuntarily terminated in a mass layoff with allegedly less than 60 days notice.
In addition, the order approves several subclasses, including all California employees fired in a mass layoff with less than 60-days notice in alleged violation of California’s WARN Act.
It also creates three subclasses of employees who had accrued, but not used, vacation time in each of the California, New York and Connecticut offices.