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Companies should take heed: Layoffs come with certain responsibilities to employees. In a case likely to draw widespread attention at a time when cutting jobs has become a sober fact of life, the Connecticut attorney general announced Thursday that he is suing Walker Digital, the research lab headed by Priceline founder Jay Walker, for an alleged violation of federal labor laws. The suit states that Walker Digital, which laid off 106 employees Nov. 21, violated the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, which requires employers of a certain size to give 60 days notice before a plant closing or mass layoff. The attorney general, in conjunction with Connecticut’s Department of Labor, wants to recover 60 days of back pay for the laid-off Walker Digital employees — about $1 million — as well as compensation for benefits for the same 60 days and prejudgment interest. Jay Walker, who is not a named defendant in the suit, could not be reached for comment. A company spokesman, Kevin Goldman, said in a prepared statement, “Walker Digital has been advised by its counsel that it has complied with the applicable laws and regulations relating to the termination of company employees that resulted from the company’s failure to complete a contemplated financing. The company looks forward to meeting with the attorney general to expeditiously resolve this matter.” The filing of the suit is yet another blow for Jay Walker, whose once-bold vision to patent and profit off of new business methods was doused by the same splash of cold water as other Internet ventures. “Cutting-edge technology does not give a company the right to cut jobs without proper notice to employees,” said Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal in a press release. “These layoffs clearly violate the spirit and letter of the law designed to protect workers and our economy from layoffs without any warning or notice. These employees were blindsided right before the holiday season, and they deserve to be compensated for the way they were mistreated by Walker Digital.” The law is intended to allow employees to begin searching for new jobs while still employed in the hopes of making a smoother transition, the release said. The law applies when at least 50 employees are laid off and if they constitute at least one-third of a company’s workforce. The release added that the Walker Digital employees — some 80 percent of the staff at the company’s Connecticut headquarters — found out only upon the announcement of layoffs that certain parts of the business would be closed. Former employees told The Standard in November that only a small number were expected to receive severance, which was to be a week’s pay for each year worked. One of the laid-off employees, who did not want to be named, said he found the suit gratifying. “A lot of good people put in their best efforts for Walker Digital,” he said. “You can’t just take care of your employees when your company is doing well.” The complaint, which Blumenthal filed in a U.S. District Court in Hartford, Conn., states that Walker Digital claimed exemption from the notification requirement on the grounds that the company was actively pursuing financing in order to avoid layoffs. The company said that advance notification of the layoffs would have hindered those efforts. Indeed, Walker Digital apparently learned that a key funder would not come through only the weekend before its layoff announcement. But the lawsuit states that Walker Digital failed to specify the exact nature of its efforts or the availability of funds from related businesses, with the same ownership, and principals of those businesses. “Walker Digital’s claim of an exception to the law is nonsensical,” Blumenthal said in the release. Related Articles from The Industry Standard: Founder to Step Down From Board Priceline Forecast Worse Than Expected Jay Walker’s Incubator Slashes Staff Copyright � 2001 The Industry Standard

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