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ESPN Zone settles with Inner Harbor workers

Employees of the former ESPN Zone in the Inner Harbor have reached a settlement over back pay after the restaurant was shut down in 2010 without federally required notice to the workers.

The owners and operators of the Inner Harbor ESPN Zone violated the WARN Act by closing the restaurant in 2010 without giving proper notice to the workers.

The Walt Disney Co. and Zone Enterprises of Maryland LLC have agreed to pay a total of $235,000 to more than 140 workers, according to the joint motion for settlement filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.

A hearing before Judge Catherine C. Blake to finalize the settlement is scheduled for Nov. 13, according to Andrew D. Freeman of Brown Goldstein Levy LLP in Baltimore, one of the plaintiffs’ lawyers.

Blake ruled in January that Disney and Zone Enterprises violated the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act, which requires employers to give employees 60-day notice if a workplace is shutting down.

The law provides employers with a safe harbor if they pay employees in full for each day of closure before the 60-day period.

At the ESPN Zone, however, the workers were given no notice when restaurant and entertainment venue closed in June 2010.

Those workers who were eligible for benefits under the Disney Severance Plan were given 60 days’ severance benefits, while those who were not eligible for severance received a lesser amount, called “payment in lieu of notice” or notice pay, for 60 days.

“Neither the spirit nor the letter of the WARN Act authorizes the alternative scheme the defendants have put forth,” Blake ruled in January.

Zone Enterprises announced the closure of the ESPN Zone in June 9, 2010, and formally notified employees only when it shuttered its doors a week later, the complaint said.

Three members of the kitchen staff and a hostess filed the putative class action in October 2010.

Disney said it tried to calculate adequate pay in lieu of notice and told the court the payments were “well in excess of what they would have received if their hours had been reduced by half,” an argument rejected by Blake.

The plaintiffs got class certification earlier this year.

GRAY ET AL. V. THE WALT DISNEY COMPANY, ET AL.

Court:

U.S. District Court, Baltimore

Case No.:

1:10-cv-03000-CCB

Judge:

Catherine C. Blake

Outcome:

$235,000 settlement

Dates:

Event: June 13, 2010

Suit filed: Oct. 25, 2010

Settlement order: Oct. 31, 2013

Plaintiffs’ Attorneys:

Brooke E. Lierman and Andrew D. Freeman of Brown Goldstein Levy LLP in Baltimore

Defendants’ Attorneys:

Ronald W. Taylor and Todd James Horn of Venable LLP in Baltimore

Counts:

Violations of the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act