The owner of a Kentucky candle factory that was destroyed in a deadly tornado last year is facing another lawsuit from workers alleging they were threatened with termination if they left before the disaster struck.
Nine people were killed when a late-season tornado hit the Mayfield Consumer Products candle factory in Mayfield on Dec. 10, 2021.
In a lawsuit filed Thursday in Graves County, several employees who were working that night allege the company "refused" to let them leave "even though it had at least three hours of notice of the danger this tornado posed to its place of business and to its employees."
The plaintiffs include the family members of three workers who died in the disaster.
Several of the workers have also joined a class-action lawsuit against the company that has not yet been resolved.
In the latest lawsuit, the workers allege that Mayfield Consumer Products "repeatedly threatened to terminate" any employee who left due to the expected tornado, did not train the employees in emergency safety protocols and that there was only one hallway and two restrooms for its 110 employees to shelter in during the tornado.
The lawsuit further alleges that the company "defamed the character" of employees who gave interviews to news organizations about their experience.
The lawsuit accuses the company of false imprisonment and intentional infliction of emotional distress and is seeking unspecified damages.
Mayfield Consumer Products has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. The company's counsel at the law firm Bradley Arant Boult Cummings has had not an opportunity to review the complaint "but will do so and respond as is appropriate," Bradley partner Edmund Sauer told ABC News on Friday.
A group of workers represented by Elijah Johnson, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, also alleged in a filing with the National Labor Relations Board last month that the company retaliated against them for participating in an Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigation earlier this year by refusing to pay their medical bills, the plaintiffs' attorneys said.
The OSHA probe led to $40,000 in fines for seven violations, the attorneys said.
In a statement to WKMS-TV following the filing, Mayfield Consumer Products' legal counsel denied Johnson's allegations and noted that Johnson was told not to leave because a shelter-in-place policy was in effect.
"This confirms that MCP complied with federal and state law, which requires employers to ensure that employees shelter in place during hazardous weather events," the statement said.