Laid-off workers sue United

Nov. 26—TRIAD — Several of the employees that a furniture company laid off without warning earlier this week have filed lawsuits against the company seeking two months' pay and other compensation.

The lawsuits against United Furniture Industries cite the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, which requires companies that employ at least 100 workers to provide 60 days' advance notice of plant closings and mass layoffs affecting 50 or more workers.

United is based in Mississippi and had facilities there and in California and North Carolina — including manufacturing plants in Archdale, Trinity and Lexington and warehouses in Lexington and Winston-Salem — but provided no notice of coming layoffs.

United sent employees an email early Tuesday telling them that everyone had been laid off due to "unforeseen business circumstances." They also were told they would have no option to temporarily continue their health coverage.

Company officials have not spoken publicly about any reason for the sudden layoffs.

The lawsuits in U.S. District Court for Mississippi's Northern District — two were filed by lone individuals, and one by 32 — seek class-action status, compensatory damages and financial penalties.

One lawsuit also asks the court to issue an injunction barring United Furniture Industries from trying to get any of its laid-off employees to sign a release relieving the company from WARN Act penalties.

As of Friday, the U.S. government's website providing access to federal court records showed no bankruptcy filing by United.

United already had been dealing with several lawsuits.

United was one of eight companies sued in April 2018 by Ultra-Mek Inc. of Denton, which alleged patent infringement involving power-reclining, rocking or reciprocating seating. Last week all parties involved filed a notice that they had reached a settlement, but the case remains active in U.S. District Court in Greensboro.

A Virginia family filed a wrongful death lawsuit in March 2021 because a child climbed inside a hope chest and suffocated after the lid closed and latched. The chest had been made by Lane Furniture before United bought the brand in 2017, but the lawsuit said that United's purchase made it the successor corporation.

That lawsuit was dismissed in August after the family and United notified the court that they had reached a settlement, but last week the judge reopened the case so both sides can ask the court to approve the settlement.

United was sued in March by the bankruptcy trustee of Art Van Furniture in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware, who wants United to repay more than $3.1 million that Art Van Furniture paid in the 90 days before Art Van Furniture filed for bankruptcy protection in early 2020. That case was set to go to mediation Jan. 23.

The company also was sued in March by a former plant supervisor in Mississippi who said she was fired in January 2021 because she had not had a full recovery from foot and knee injuries, which she alleges violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.