Huntsville Times Article: Bill Heard Seeks Delay In Hearing On Lawsuit

The Huntsville Times published this story on October 15, 2008.

By DAVID HOLDEN, Huntsville Times Staff Writer david.holden@htimes.com

DECATUR – The lawyers representing Bill Heard Chevrolet Enterprises in federal bankruptcy court have asked for a postponement of a hearing seeking certification of petitions for class action status filed by former employees.

A class action lawsuit would consolidate into one court the claims of all former Bill Heard employees in several states that arise under federal law.

A dozen Bill Heard Chevrolet dealerships nationwide, including the one in Huntsville, shut down on Sept. 24. On Sept. 28, Bill Heard filed for bankruptcy protection under Chapter 11 of the federal bankruptcy law in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Decatur.

Adam Kettell, an employee at Bill Heard in Huntsville since 2006, filed a petition against the dealership on Oct. 1. The petition alleges that Bill Heard violated federal labor law by failing to give employees sufficient notice before closing.

A New York law firm, through a lawyer in Birmingham, filed a similar petition in bankruptcy court in Decatur on behalf of Edward Kratzel, a former employee of a Bill Heard dealership in Las Vegas. Kratzel’s petition was filed on Oct. 6.

A lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court is also seeking class action certification for all Bill Heard employees and is still pending. Lawyers in both cases are seeking damages and restitution because of an alleged violation of a federal labor law, the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act. The law requires most employers with 100 or more employees to provide 60-day advance notification of plant closings and mass layoffs of employees.

The notice gives workers time to look for new jobs and skill training or re-training programs.

The petition, filed on Kettell’s behalf by Huntsville lawyers Joe King and Joseph Aiello, says the shutdown affected nearly 200 employees at Bill Heard’s Huntsville operation and more than 2,300 nationwide.

Kratzel’s petition, filed by Birmingham lawyer Mark Williams, says the Bill Heard dealership in Las Vegas employed more that 100 employees.

The petition seeks certification to include all current employees of Bill Heard Enterprises when the dealership shut down.

In its bankruptcy petition, the dealership reported $229 million in debt related to its automobile inventory and $40 million in unsecured debt. The company also owes state taxes and wages to employees, among other costs.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Jack Caddell had scheduled a hearing on the petitions for Nov. 6. But Bill Heard’s lawyers asked Caddell on Monday for more time to prepare for the hearing.

The lawsuit seeking class action status was filed in the civil division of U.S. District Court on Sept. 25 by Huntsville lawyer Rebekah McKinney on behalf of former Bill Heard employees Erica Lodge and Michelle Whitby.

Lodge had been an employee in Huntsville since 2002. Whitby, a Bill Heard employee for 19 years, had worked at several of the dealership’s locations, including Huntsville.

The suit filed by Lodge and Whitby is waiting for a ruling by U.S. District Judge Lynwood Smith Jr.

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