A 1999 civil case involving Toyota, plant employees lives on

gkocher1@herald-leader.comDecember 8, 2013 

A 1999 civil case over back-pay eligibility at Toyota's Georgetown plant is not over yet, even though the Kentucky Court of Appeals recently reversed a Scott Circuit judge's decision.

Last month the appellate court said that Scott Circuit Judge Rob Johnson should not have reopened the case in 2007. Rob Roark, a Lexington attorney representing Toyota employees, told the Herald-Leader he will file a motion for discretionary review from the Kentucky Supreme Court.

"Obviously, we're disappointed in it, and believe the Court (of Appeals) erred," Roark said. "That's why we're going to take it up to the state Supreme Court and let them look at this case."

The case, originally filed in 1999, centered on whether paint shop workers should be paid for the time it takes to put on and remove company-supplied coveralls to minimize lint that could spoil car finishes, as well as for the time to walk to and from the paint shops.

Until the spring of 2006, Toyota did not pay employees for the time spent donning and doffing the coveralls. The plant now pays employees for at least two-tenths of an hour each day to don and doff the coveralls, which equates to at least 10 minutes on the plant's time scale.

At the time the original case was filed, Toyota argued that circuit courts did not have the jurisdiction to hear the case, saying the state Labor Cabinet did instead.

Toyota attorneys got the case out of circuit court in 2000. and it then went to the Kentucky Labor Cabinet in 2003.

It returned to circuit court in 2007 when Johnson, citing new case law, ruled it could do so.

Then, in a 2012 decision, Johnson certified that the workers' case can proceed as a class action, although he also put limitations on that order.

Toyota appealed Johnson's decision, arguing that the case should never have been reopened in 2007; and that the Kentucky Wages and Hours Act does not allow for class relief.

In its ruling last month, the Court of Appeals agreed with Toyota that Johnson "improperly reopened the case in 2007," and so reversed his decision.

The Court of Appeals said that even if Johnson had properly reopened the case, the state law cited by Johnson does not permit class actions and he improperly certified a class.

The latest Court of Appeals decision does not address the merits of the case or whether the workers should receive additional pay.

Toyota offered a settlement in 2006 that was accepted by more than 1,100 employees. The settlement provided each worker about $1,000 for a full year of work for up to five years. But the settlement was rejected by some workers who continued the case.

The settlements that were offered by Toyota applied only to work between 2001 and 2006. Those who took the settlement did not release their claims for work between 1994 and 2001.

"All the claims between 1994 and 2001 are still in play," Roark said.

Greg Kocher: (859) 231-3305. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety

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