Alcoa lawsuit moved to federal court

By Kathy Helms-Hughes

STAR STAFF
khughes@starhq.com

   A lawsuit filed April 26 by employees of Alcoa Extrusions Inc. of Elizabethton alleging breach of contract and seeking more than $282,662 in damages has been moved from Carter County Chancery Court to U.S. District Court in Greeneville.
   In the notice of removal filed May 29, attorneys for Alcoa state that since the amount of damages sought exceeds $75,000, U.S. District Court has jurisdiction over the matter.
   According to the notice, 21 employees filed a civil suit in Chancery Court April 26. Alcoa was served the complaint on April 29 and had 30 days to file notice of removal.
   The original complaint filed for employees by Johnson City attorneys James Culp and Edwin Charles alleges that employees worked under a contract based on terms stated in the Employee Handbook.
   In late November or early December 2001, the civil suit says, Alcoa announced that it would close the Elizabethton plant, displacing approximately 240 people. Employees contend Alcoa must provide them the basic benefit of four weeks' pay and an enhanced benefit of two weeks' pay for every full year of service with the company, in accordance with the "Involuntary Separation Plan" set forth in the handbook.
   The employees state that they meet all of the conditions and contend that Alcoa has offered "many other employees" a smaller benefit package, while employees in Quality Control and the tool house departments, and certain supervisors, were offered a larger benefit package.
   The employees say that terms of employment stated in the handbook were accepted by all employees as binding not only on their part, but on the part of the employer.
   "It cannot determine it will close the plant and then unilaterally diminish the severance pay benefits of [ 70 ] percent or more and reduce continued health insurance benefits from one year to one month upon involuntary separation ...," the suit states.
   Alcoa alleges the benefits to which employees say they are entitled is a "welfare plan, providing severance benefits in case of permanent separation from employment, governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974."