Several Injured Workers Sue Candle Factory Flattened by Tornado, Alleging They Weren't Allowed to Leave

Candle factory
Eight people were killed when a candle factory disintegrated during a massive tornado that ripped through Mayfield, Kentucky.Getty

The candle factory workers claim they were threatened with being fired if they left early.

Several survivors of a candle factory collapse have sued the company, alleging their employers demonstrated "flagrant indifference" by not letting them leave early as the massive storm system bore down on a western Kentucky town.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in state court, claims the Mayfield Consumer Products violated Kentucky occupational safety and health workplace standards by telling its staff to keep working. Eight people were killed when the fast-moving tornado tore through the factory and leveled it, leaving employees trapped in the rubble.

There were more than 100 workers on the overnight shift Friday when tornado sirens began blaring. Employees were working longer shifts to accommodate increased orders for scented candles as the holidays approach, the company has said.

Gov. Andy Beshear has said that the state's workplace safety agency would investigate the deaths, as is standard when employees are killed on the job, he said. Company spokesman Bob Ferguson said the review is welcomed. He has denied workers were told to stay on the job, despite tornado warnings.

"We understand we live in a very litigious world and are not surprised that profit-seeking litigators are already poring over this area," Ferguson told The Louisville Courier Journal Wednesday. Ferguson maintained the company's denial that workers were never told they would be fired if they left their shifts.

Several employees have been interviewed by local reporters and said they were told by managers they would likely be fired if they went home.

The lawsuit claims the factory had “up to three and half hours before the tornado hit its place of business to allow its employees to leave its worksite as safety precautions.” The factory showed “flagrant indifference to the rights” of the workers by refusing to do so, the suit said.

The only employee named in the legal action is 20-year-old Elijah Johnson. Attorney Amos Jones told the Courier Journal he represents at least two other workers who have not been identified in the suit. 

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