Monday, March 11, 2013

As lawsuit over "sham" training program proceeds, 13 new plaintiffs added for at least part of case; many principals deposed, including Ratner

The federal lawsuit filed in November 2011 against Atlantic Yards Community Benefits Agreement signatory BUILD (Brooklyn United for Innovative Local Development) and its patron Forest City Ratner has been expanded, as 13 former trainees have joined the seven original plaintiffs in the case.

That means that 20 of the 36 people in the coveted pre-apprenticeship training program (PATP) are suing for unpaid wages in the program (which plaintiffs' attorneys have called a "sham"), including but not limited to the two months working at at the Staten Island site run by defendant Orbin's Green Machine.

The plaintiffs, said attorney Matthew Brinckerhoff, are "seeking unpaid wages for anything they should've been paid for... one is the training program itself, one is the work on Staten Island."

"For many people, the larger category of damages are the expectation damages," he said, citing the claims that PATP organizers had promised jobs and union cards--potentially significant sums, based on wages for the past few years and under a career as a union construction worker.

The plaintiffs' attorneys also want to amend the complaint to allow the 13 plaintiffs to sue for those "expectation damages." Presumably the defense will oppose that.

A status conference on the case was scheduled for February 27, but was postponed to tomorrow March 12.

Timetable and depositions

Brinckerhoff said the timetable remains "pretty uncertain," though all discovery should be completed by May. That would presage potential summary judgment motions--which could lead to a judicial resolution, settlement negotiations, and/or a trial.

While depositions may not ever be made public (unless they're used in legal filings), a full range of participants have been questioned, according to Brinckerhoff: along with the seven named plaintiffs, Forest City Ratner executives Bruce Ratner, MaryAnne Gilmartin, Jane Marshall, Bob Sanna, and Sonya Covington have been deposed, as well as James Caldwell and Chantel Lewis of BUILD, and Gausia Jones of Orbin's.

Past process

Last June, federal Judge John Gleeson did dismiss several aspects of the case filed against Forest City, executives Ratner, Marshall, and Caldwell, but he rejected a motion to dismiss key claims, including the most contested claim during a court argument: whether Forest City and BUILD constituted "joint employers."

The argument concerned the plaintiffs' claim that, by signing the CBA, which promised the PATP, and funding and directing BUILD, that Forest City Ratner was responsible for the program. One plaintiff, recounting how he was promised a union card and a union job, said "I was robbed," when the case was announced.

BUILD lives?

Though BUILD closed last November, facing a debt to the Internal Revenue Service and a complaint to the state Attorney General over improper spending, several people testifying at a hearing Feb. 27 on the scope for a Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement referred to BUILD as if it were still alive.

No one mentioned the lawsuit.

Caldwell acknowledged, with no details, that he still has a professional relationship of sorts with Forest City Ratner. It's not surprising that Forest City, which is funding his legal defense, would want to maintain a cordial relationship. 

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