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Tornado-hit factory sued; workers said they couldn't leave


MAYFIELD, Ky. (AP) — Survivors of a tornado that leveled a Kentucky candle factory, killing eight workers, have filed a lawsuit claiming their employer demonstrated “flagrant indifference” by refusing to allow employees to go home early as the storm approached the western Kentucky town.

The lawsuit filed in state court accuses the company of violating Kentucky occupational safety and health workplace standards by keeping its staff at work. It seeks compensatory and punitive damages from Mayfield Consumer Products.

A spokesman for the company has previously insisted that employees were free to leave anytime. The spokesman did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment Thursday.

The lawsuit claims the factory had “up to three and half hours before the tornado hit its place of business to allow its employees to leave its worksite as safety precautions.” The factory showed “flagrant indifference to the rights” of the workers by refusing to do so, the lawsuit said.

An employee of the factory told The Associated Press on Tuesday that a supervisor threatened her with written disciplinary action if she went home early because storms were approaching.

The employee, Haley Conder, also questioned why the company did not encourage workers to go home — or at least give them a better understanding of the danger — between a first tornado siren around 6 p.m. Friday and another one around 9 p.m., shortly before the tornado hit.

The lawsuit was filed less than a week after the storms that began Friday night destroyed lives and property from Arkansas to Illinois and in parts of neighboring states, carving a more than 200-mile (320-kilometer) path through Kentucky alone.

More than 100 people were working on candle orders when the twister flattened the Mayfield facility. The scale of the damage initially stoked fears that scores of workers could be found dead in the rubble. The company later said many employees who survived left the site and went to homes with no phone service, adding to the confusion over who was missing.

Since then, all workers have been accounted for, according to state and local officials who have spoken to the company.

Gov. Andy Beshear has said that Kentucky’s workplace safety agency would look into the eight deaths. That kind of investigation is routine whenever workers are killed on the job. The company has signaled that it welcomes a review by the state and will cooperate.

Bruce Schreiner, The Associated Press