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ESPN Zone workers, employer reach settlement

About 140 workers who lost their jobs when the ESPN Zone restaurant in Baltimore abruptly closed in 2010 will split $230,000 in a settlement over back pay if a federal judge approves the deal.

The agreement, preliminarily approved, was filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore for a final OK. A hearing before Judge Catherine C. Blake is scheduled Nov. 13.

Andrew D. Freeman, one of two attorneys who represented plaintiffs in the class action suit, said the proposed settlement would pay workers roughly 70 percent of what they believed they were owed.

"It's been a long haul, but the clients are very pleased with the settlement," said Freeman, with Brown, Goldstein & Levy in Baltimore. "Finally we're recovering for them the money they should have been paid in the first place several years ago."

Attorneys for the Walt Disney Co. and subsidiary Zone Enterprises of Maryland, the defendants, could not be reached Friday.

The average payment through the settlement would come to just over $1,600. But workers are owed differing amounts.

Blake ruled in January that Zone Enterprises underpaid employees after it failed to give them 60 days' notice of the closing, as is usually required of midsize and larger employers under the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification — or WARN — Act.

The workers had alleged that Zone Enterprises gave them "notice pay" that wasn't equal to 60 days of their regular wages except in a few cases. Also, they alleged, workers eligible for severance as part of their benefits package were effectively paid the greater of the two amounts rather than both.

Blake wrote in her January decision that "the defendants engineered a mechanism by which they attempted to avoid WARN liability and offset much of the cost of the required 60-day notice period with severance already otherwise owed employees."

"Employers should not be permitted to circumvent the WARN Act in this way," she wrote.

A spokesman for the restaurant had said earlier that the company believed it had followed the WARN rules.

Zone Enterprises would pay $485,000 in total as part of the settlement. Brown, Goldstein & Levy would receive $250,000 in attorneys' fees and expenses. The four workers who sued on behalf of the group would each receive $1,250 in addition to their share of the back pay.

jhopkins@baltsun.com

twitter.com/jsmithhopkins

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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