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Attorney claims 'smoking gun' as Mayfield factory workers consider lawsuit

An aerial shot of the collapsed Mayfield Consumer Products factory.
John Hewlett
An aerial shot of the collapsed Mayfield Consumer Products factory.

The Mayfield candle factory where eight people were killed by last Friday’s tornado has vigorously denied claims that employees weren’t allowed to leave during the storm. 

Now, several employees who were working that night are considering legal action, according to attorney Amos Jones.

In a press release, Jones said the survivors have proof the company broke the law, including “a massive cover-up discovered within the last 24 hours with an incontrovertible smoking gun.”

Jones says he and Lexington based attorney William Davis are giving the company a chance to retract its claims before some employees file a complaint against Mayfield Consumer Products.

“We, together, were approached by these victims once the company went on the offensive with this bizarre narrative that the employees — many of whom heard and acted on threats to their employment if they were to leave — this notion that they made it up,” Jones said. 

Jones said he has a recording made by an employee that backs up their allegations, but he has not released the recording.

Troy Propes, CEO of Mayfield Consumer Products, released a statement on Tuesday saying it has hired a team of experts to review the actions of factory management the night of the storm, and will give all employees $1,000 to help cover their immediate expenses.

“We’re confident that our team leaders acted entirely appropriately and were, in fact, heroic in their efforts to shelter our employees,” the statement said.

Bob Ferguson of the Hawksbill Group, the Washington D.C. based public relations firm representing the company, said earlier this week that any reports that employees weren’t free to leave was “baloney.”

Reached by phone Tuesday, Ferguson said he stands by that statement. Ferguson said that the company has not heard the recording Jones referred to. 

Ferguson said the company is working to obtain documentation proving the factory had implemented a flexible scheduling policy during the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing employees to leave early or call out of a shift without retaliation.

The factory produced candles for retailers including Bath & Body Works and had a history of workplace safety violations in recent years. In 2019, a man recruited to work at the factory from Puerto Rico filed suit against the company, claiming Mayfield recruited him and others to Kentucky only to fire him because he was overweight. The lawsuit was eventually dismissed.

The company also hired people incarcerated by at least two local jails. Seven people from the Graves County jail were at the factory the night of the storm; all survived, but the jail deputy guarding them, Robert Daniel, died of his injuries.

Four employees told NBC News managers had threatened their jobs if they left work early, and the husband of a woman who died at the factory told KyCIR she was afraid of losing work if she didn’t show up that night.

Copyright 2021 89.3 WFPL News Louisville. To see more, visit 89.3 WFPL News Louisville.

Jared Bennett is an investigative reporter and deputy editor for LPM's Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting team. Previously, he was a reporter the Center for Public Integrity and a digital producer for WBUR in Boston.
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