CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Miners at a coal operation owned by Gov. Jim Justice’s family have filed a federal class action lawsuit over bounced checks.
The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia in Beckley. It is against Bluestone Industries and also names the governor’s grown children, Jay and Jill Justice, directors of the business.
Also named is James Miller, secretary and treasurer for Bluestone.
Governor Justice became president and chief executive of Bluestone Industries in 1993, after his father’s death. His long association with the company is still spelled out on Justice’s official biography on the Governor’s Office website.
During late 2008 and early 2009, Justice negotiated the $568 million sale of Bluestone and most of the rest of the family’s coal holdings to Mechel, OAO, one of Russia’s leading mining and metal companies.
Downward pressure on the mining industry led Mechel to shut some of the mines. Justice bought them back in 2015 for just $5 million.
Justice reopened some of the mines and hired back a couple hundred miners.
“It was the right thing to do,” he said in 2015.
“There was a real possibility they (Mechel OAO) could have just walked and left everyone holding the bag. With all that at play — and you know how I feel about West Virginia — the last thing on earth we needed was another bad outcome. If they had just left, it would have been tragic.”
Bluestone has remained among the many business interests listed on Justice’s financial disclosure form with the state Ethics Commission.
When Justice took over as West Virginia’s governor in January, 2017, he placed responsibility for the coal business with James Justice III, known as Jay.
The lawsuit over bounced paychecks was filed this March 6 and then amended April 11 on behalf of miner Kenneth Cozart, representing a class of those who were also affected. The lawsuit contends Cozart, who lives in Raleigh County, represents hundreds, maybe thousands, of miners similarly affected.
The action contends Bluestone violated the West Virginia Wage Payment and Collection Act and the Fair Labor Standards Act: “Plaintiffs and their co-workers have suffered and continue to suffer harm as a result of Bluestone’s failure to pay its employees wages earned and owing.”
On Feb. 23, Cozart was issued a paycheck and tried to deposit it, the lawsuit states.
“The paycheck bounced, causing bad check fees to be charged against the plaintiff’s account,” the lawsuit states.
“Sometime thereafter, Bluestone wired the plaintiff wages owed him due to the bad check deposited on February 23, 2018. Plaintiff and other employees were charged a wire transfer fee for this payment.”
That wasn’t the first time for paychecks to bounce, the lawsuit states.
“On several prior occasions, the plaintiff was given paychecks for wages earned and deposited said checks in his account and those checks bounced, costing the plaintiff returned check fees.
“Bluestone would again wire the plaintiff his pay in the same manner as set forth above, again incurring wire transfer fees.”
John Hussell, the lawyer for Bluestone, says the company has already tried to make the pay situation right.
“When we became aware of the issue, we immediately took action to ensure that all of the employees received their full pay,” Hussell said last week.
“There was no interruption of their benefits and all of the employees were paid promptly after we became aware of this issue. We are happy to have these miners working with us and are committed to ensuring that they are paid for their hard work.”
The lawyers who filed the class action suit are Anthony Majestro and Anthony Salvatore.
Salvatore’s website makes reference to more than one lawsuit over bad checks.
The law practice contends that Bluestone is in a joint venture with Legacy Land Management Inc.
A separate class action suit has been filed against Legacy Land Management and its operators.
“If you or someone you know is dealing with Legacy Land Management or any other Jim Justice owned mine affiliate know this: when an employer issues bad payroll checks the law is on the employees’ side 100%,” Salvatore says on his website.
The class action suit against Legacy was filed Jan. 3 and then amended April 12.
James Bradley of Fayette County and Garret Lambert of Crab Orchard represent the class in that case.
This lawsuit again contends Bradley and Lambert may represent hundreds or thousands of employees in the same situation.
On Dec. 6, 2017, they were issued paychecks for their work, the lawsuit states. Bradley was also given a check for his monthly stipend for a truck allowance.
“On the same date, both checks bounced, causing bad check fees to be charged against plaintiffs accounts.”
Two days later, the lawsuit states, Legacy wired the two the wages they were owed. But Bradley was never paid the truck stipend, the lawsuit contends. They were charged a wire transfer fee, the lawsuit states.
Then, five days before Christmas, they were given paychecks again.
“Plaintiffs deposited said checks in their accounts and those paychecks bounced, costing the plaintiffs another returned check fee.
“Legacy again wired the plaintiffs their pay in the same manner as set forth above. Plaintiffs again incurred bad check fees and/or wire transfer fees.”
On Dec. 29, 2017, the lawsuit contends, it happened again.
“Upon information and belief these checks and the checks for all other co-workers have not cleared and banks have placed 7-day holds on all legacy payroll checks,” the lawsuit states. “As such, plaintiffs and their co-workers do not have access to their salary.”