Auto transport workers claim they were wrongfully laid off

Kelly Holleran Jun. 23, 2009, 5:59am

Three former Caliber Auto Transfer employees have filed separate suits against the company and four other defendants, alleging they were wrongly laid off so the company could hire workers for less pay.

Angela Ingram, Garfield Richards and Monica Miller say Caliber Auto Transfer hired them to perform vehicle loading services in Venice and in St. Louis.

When Ingram, Richards and Miller were hired, Caliber Auto Transfer promised to pay them certain wages, medical benefits and union dues so they could be entitled to representation through the labor union, according to the complaints filed June 16 in St. Clair County Circuit Court.

However, during their employment for the company, Ingram, Richards and Miller were paid wages that were less than the general prevailing rate of hourly wages for work of a similar character in which the work was performed, which is a violation of the Prevailing Wage Act, the complaints say.

Still, Ingram, Richards and Miller continued to work for Caliber Auto Transfer through Feb. 24, 2008, when they and all their co-workers were laid off, the suit states.

Caliber Auto Transfer told Ingram, Richards and Miller there was insufficient work to allow employees to continue working, the complaints say.

In actuality, though, Caliber Auto Transfer laid off all its employees so it could hire other workers and pay them less, Ingram, Richards and Miller claim. Thus, Caliber Auto Transfer's "profits would increase and defendants' expenses would decrease," the complaints say.

After Ingram, Richards and Miller and their co-workers learned of the real reason for their termination, they attempted to seek union representation so they could retain their employment, according to the complaint.

However, the labor union refused to represent them because Caliber Auto Transfer had failed to pay union dues, even though it promised to do so in its employment contract with the plaintiffs, the suits state.

Not only did Caliber Auto Transfer lay off all of its employees, but it also reported to local government offices that Ingram, Richards and Miller and their co-workers had voluntarily left their employment and engaged in misconduct, Ingram, Richards and Miller claim. But the plaintiffs say none of Caliber Auto Transfer's allegations against them or their co-workers were true.

"That the aforesaid behavior by the defendants was in complete and conscious disregard for the health, safety and wellbeing of plaintiff and her co-workers and was, therefore, willful and wanton," the suits state.

In addition to Caliber Auto Transfer, other defendants named in the suits include Caliber Management Inc., Caliber Auto Transfer Companies, Caliber Auto Transfer, Inc. and Scott Davenport.

Because of their alleged wrongful termination, Ingram, Richards and Miller say they suffered a deprivation of income, lost their employment benefits, suffered emotionally and incurred expenses in their attempt to exercise their rights and to seek other employment.

In the five-count suits, each of the plaintiffs is seeking a judgment in excess of $100,000, compensatory damages in excess of $100,000 and exemplary damages in excess of $100,000, plus costs.

They are represented by Peter J. Maag and Brian M. Wendler of Wendler Law in Edwardsville.

St. Clair County Circuit Court case numbers: 09-L-315, 09-L-316 and 09-L-317.

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