FREMONT (CBS SF) — Attorneys for a group of disabled former employees of the New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. plant in Fremont who claim they did not receive proper severance benefits when the plant was shuttered last year announced Thursday that a $6 million settlement has been reached in the case.
If the settlement is approved by U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer, it will resolve a lawsuit that was filed last year alleging that NUMMI and Toyota Motor Corp. violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by denying bonuses and transitional services to qualified workers who were on leave because of medical conditions.
Christopher Herrera, a spokesman for the plaintiffs, said the parties in the case expect Breyer to approve the settlement soon. He said the agreement will provide funds to more than 500 displaced workers.
Herrera said the settlement will be paid jointly by NUMMI, Toyota Motor Corp., which is based in Japan, and Toyota Motor Sales USA, Inc.
However, Toyota spokesman Javier Moreno said NUMMI will pay all of the settlement costs.
Moreno said, “Toyota’s intention, from the beginning, was to mitigate the effects of NUMMI’s closure on the plant’s employees. Accordingly, prior to NUMMI’s closure, we provided approximately $280 million to fund transition support for NUMMI’s salaried and hourly team members.”
He said, “While we do not believe Toyota is liable in respect to this lawsuit, we are pleased that all parties have reached a conclusion in this litigation.”
A NUMMI spokesman could not be reached for comment Thursday.
NUMMI opened in 1984 and was a joint venture between Toyota and
General Motors, but Toyota decided to close the auto plant after GM withdrew from the partnership in 2009.
The move threw 4,700 union employees out of work and affected thousands of employees at suppliers around the state who did business with the auto plant.
Tesla Motors bought the former NUMMI site in a deal that was finalized last October. Production on a premium electric sedan called the Model S is expected to start in the middle of next year, a Tesla spokesperson said Thursda.
Many of the workers involved in the lawsuit had worked at the plant for decades but claimed their years of service were not reflected in their severance packages because they were on medical leave.
The lawyers claim the workers lost up to $38,000 each because of the alleged discrimination.
David Botelli, of Manteca, who joined NUMMI when it opened in 1984, said in a statement, “I worked for NUMMI for 25 years, but I was offered the same severance as a person who had worked one year.
“The only reason I wasn’t working was that I was injured on the job,” Botelli said. “And when I was released by my doctor, NUMMI would not allow me to return.”
June Andrade, who lives near Livermore, said she was prevented from returning to work after recovering from surgery for an on-job injury, and was excluded from transitional employment services such as career and skills assessments that were offered at the auto plant.
Andrade said, “I joined the lawsuit because it wasn’t fair to treat the disabled workers less favorably—we were all part of the NUMMI team.”
The former NUMMI employees also filed charges against NUMMI with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. As part of the settlement, NUMMI entered into a conciliation agreement with the federal agency, according to the plaintiffs’ lawyers.
Toyota was not named in the EEOC complaint and was not part of the conciliation agreement.
Tony Lawson, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs, said the settlement will provide needed funds to the displaced workers. He said many of them are still struggling and have not returned to full-time employment.
“Distributing these funds will make a difference to former NUMMI workers and their families,” Lawson said in a statement.
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