In approving what is being termed “the largest settlement of an age discrimination case in West Virginia’s history,” Fayette County Circuit Court Judge Paul Blake determined that the $8.75 million settlement between Massey Energy Co. and a class of coal miners is “a fair, adequate, and reasonable resolution of Plaintiffs’ individual and class claims against Defendants.”
The case was filed in 2006 against Massey subsidiary Spartan Mining Co. and Massey’s CEO Don Blankenship by five coal miners on behalf of a class of more than 200 job applicants. The suit, which arose out of Massey’s purchase of the former Cannelton mining operation, in 2004, alleged that Massey failed to hire older workers in violation of the West Virginia Human Rights Act when it began mining operations in December 2004.
Pursuant to the terms of the settlement, 82 coal miners who previously worked at the Cannelton operation will each receive $38,000 in back pay and general compensatory damages. Another 141 job applicants will each receive $19,000.
The class was represented by Charleston attorneys David Grubb and Kristina Whiteaker of The Grubb Law Group. Grubb, a former state senator from Kanawha County, called the outcome “excellent” and “a significant victory for West Virginia workers.” He noted that this is the largest age discrimination settlement in the state’s history.
Massey Energy released a statement explaining that its insurer negotiated the settlement of the class action lawsuit. Trial lawyers will receive $3 million of the $8.75 million settlement of the suit, which is approximately 34% of the total amount. The remainder of the settlement funds will be divided by an estimated 231 class members. “Our insurer decided it was best to settle this case outside the West Virginia court system, which has been friendly to class action lawsuits,” said Don Blankenship, chairman and CEO, Massey Energy. “We believe the suit was without merit, but understand our insurer’s reluctance to proceed to trial in West Virginia.”
West Virginia’s legal climate has consistently been rated as one of the worst in the nation, according to the Massey statement. “It appears that the purpose of this case was to enrich trial lawyers,” said Massey Energy General Counsel Shane Harvey.
“This settlement highlights yet again the treacherous and backhanded manner Massey treated the miners who had worked at the Cannelton mine for decades,” UMWA International President Cecil E. Roberts said. “While it was discriminating against these experienced miners because of their age or union status, the company was at the same time publicly crying about the lack of experienced miners in the coalfields.”
During September, the National Labor Relations Board ordered Mammoth Coal Co., a subsidiary of Massey Energy, to recognize the United Mine Workers of America as the exclusive representative of the employees at the company’s Mammoth mine (the former Cannelton mine) in Smithers, W.Va., and to bargain with the union.