Former ESPN Zone workers file class action lawsuit

Ex-employees sue Walt Disney Co. for back pay at closed Inner Harbor location

October 25, 2010|By Gus G. Sentementes, The Baltimore Sun

Five former ESPN Zone employees filed a class action lawsuit Monday against the company, alleging it had violated federal standards for notifying and paying workers who lost their jobs when the Inner Harbor location closed in June.

The federal lawsuit claims that ESPN Zone, owned by Walt Disney Co., did not provide laid-off workers the mandated 60 days' notice of termination under the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification, or WARN, Act.

The company has previously stated that it followed the federal regulations. About 140 employees, both full- and part-time, lost their jobs when ESPN Zone closed June 15.

"We are sending a message," said Leonard Gray, a former cook at the restaurant and one of the five plaintiffs. "We are not disposable. We are human beings."

Gray was part of a group of about 40 people, many former employees, who protested Monday morning outside the former ESPN Zone in downtown Baltimore. The group then marched to the U.S. District Court in Baltimore, where the case had been filed earlier that morning.

ESPN and Disney have denied they did anything wrong in handling the layoffs of hundreds of workers at several ESPN Zones across the country. Five of the chain's seven locations closed this summer.

Other former employees of the shuttered Baltimore ESPN Zone and of the four other closed locations could potentially join the suit. The five plaintiffs seek 60 days' worth of back pay and benefits as well as attorneys' fees. The plaintiffs are Gray, Lee Evans, Debra Harris and Krystal Payton, all of Baltimore, and Gary Scott, of Randallstown.

A spokesman for ESPN Zone could not be immediately reached for comment Monday afternoon.

In past statements, ESPN has said that it was in compliance with federal regulations, which generally require companies with more than 50 employees to give 60 days' notice before closing.

ESPN Zone filed a notice June 15 letting state officials know that workers would lose their jobs as of June 16, according to the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation. State officials were told that ESPN Zone would place employees on paid administrative leave through Aug. 15.

After Aug. 15, the employees received an additional severance benefit based on their length of service. But the former employees say the severance pay they received was calculated at a lower rate than required by the WARN Act.

A nonprofit advocacy group, United Workers, helped organize the Baltimore workers after they were laid off. Over the summer, the workers asked for a meeting with ESPN and Disney officials but were denied, according to Ashley Hufnagel, an organizer with United Workers.

gus.sentementes@baltsun.com

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