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Car lot owner accused of federal labor law breach

ATLANTA — The company with the nation’s largest chain of Chevrolet dealerships violated federal labor law when it fired thousands of employees last month, according to a lawsuit filed by a former worker.

Edward Kratzel, who worked at a Bill Heard Enterprises Inc. dealership in Las Vegas, filed the lawsuit Friday in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in northern Alabama. That is where Columbus, Ga.-based Bill Heard sought bankruptcy protection on Sept. 28 after shutting its remaining dealerships four days earlier.

Meanwhile, several hundred former Heard employees in Southern Nevada are struggling, because they didn’t receive final paychecks or received paychecks that bounced, said Bill Szabo, 54, who sold cars over the Internet for Bill Heard Chevrolet.

Two days before Bill Heard Chevrolet closed, Szabo said, he and about 20 others were laid off. Others were laid off the following day at Vista Chevrolet, another Heard dealership in Las Vegas.

Szabo said he was given two checks totaling $3,900. He deposited them at his bank but later they were returned for insufficient funds at Bill Heard’s bank, Szabo said.

Company representatives promised to send him a check for $2,100 in commissions but never did, he said.

“They wrote a bad check. I want them arrested,” Szabo said. “I want to see them in jail. I want to see their mug shots.”

As creditors, former employees may file claims with the bankruptcy court on their own behalf or rely on attorneys to file their claims.

The company, which had operated in seven states, said its 14 dealerships were losing from $2 million to $5 million a month because of a drop in sales coupled with a lack of available credit.

The Heard Group is “negotiating asset purchase agreements for some of their dealerships and is actively marketing the remainder of their dealerships for immediate sale,” according to papers filed Monday in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Decatur, Ala.

The lawsuit against Bill Heard and about two dozen affiliated companies claims they violated employees’ rights under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act. The act says companies must give at least 60 days advance written notice of firings and continue to pay certain wages, salary and benefits during the notice period, the lawsuit said.

“It’s time for ‘Mr. Big Volume,’ as Mr. Heard called himself, to ensure that his employees survive this transition in accordance with the law,” Kratzel’s lawyer Jack Raisner, of New York, said in a statement.

Fred Caruso, a spokesman for Bill Heard Enterprises, said in an e-mail that the company had no comment.

The company closed 13 dealerships in Nevada, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and Texas on Sept. 24. It had closed its Scottsdale, Ariz., dealership Sept. 12.

Kratzel’s lawyers are seeking class action status for the lawsuit to include all people who were “terminated without cause” at Bill Heard-owned operations in those seven states on or about Sept. 24.

Bloomberg News and Review-Journal writer John G. Edwards contributed to this report.

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