Paint shop workers have won a significant ruling in a case over back-pay eligibility at Toyota's Georgetown plant.
In a decision entered into the record Friday, Scott Circuit Court Judge Rob Johnson certified that the workers' case can proceed as a class action, but he also put limitations on his order.
The case, originally filed in 1999, centers on whether workers should be paid for the time it takes to put on and remove protective suits and walk to and from their jobs.
"This is an enormous step," said Elizabeth Hughes, a Lexington lawyer who represents the workers. "This makes workers able to pursue justice as a group rather then trying to file individual claims."
Toyota has 10 days to appeal the decision. Asked whether the company would appeal, Toyota spokesman Rick Hesterberg said "we're evaluating next steps."
Hesterberg said the judge's decision does not address the merits of the case or whether the workers should receive additional pay.
"The issue for paying for donning or doffing has been very ambiguous," Hesterberg said.
Johnson wrote in the ruling that the workers had met several prerequisites to be considered a class. Johnson ruled, for example, that the workers met the "commonality" prerequisite in that all alleged the same injury.
"In this case, the alleged same injury is that each of the employees in the paint shops and the bumper paint shop were each required to show up early for work to put on their protective clothing, walk through specific walkways to get to their assigned jobs and then return to an assigned location to take the protective clothes off — all without any compensation," Johnson wrote.
"According to the record, all of the dressing, walking, and undressing had to be overtime because the employees had to be on the line ready to work at the very beginning of their shift and the line did not stop for the shift until the very end of the shift. Furthermore, the plaintiffs allege that it was a company policy not to pay the employees for their time in donning, walking and doffing during the time period in the complaint. Therefore, commonality is met," Johnson wrote.
Johnson certified the class as all current and/or former employees who worked in the paint and/or bumper paint departments of the Georgetown plant who donned and doffed line-free coveralls and other required items from Aug. 31, 1994, through Feb. 26, 2006, who were paid on an hourly basis and who allegedly were not fully compensated for all hours worked, including hours or portions of hours donning, doffing and walking.
The size of the class is about 1,500 people who are or were full-time employees. But Johnson excluded hundreds of temporary workers, although some of them may be class members if they eventually became permanent employees, Hughes said.
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 time before 2001.
In his order, Johnson said those who accepted a settlement cannot recover additional amounts for the period from 2001 to 2006.
"But if they were there before 2001, they're still a member of the class for the payment from 1994 through 2001," Hughes said.