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Survivor of the Mayfield candle factory files lawsuit

Aerial footage from WDRB Saturday shows the remains of a Mayfield, Ky. candle factory destroyed in a tornado.
Aerial footage from WDRB Saturday shows the remains of a Mayfield, Ky. candle factory destroyed in a tornado.

An employee of the Mayfield candle factory who survived the building's collapse during last week’s tornado has filed a lawsuit claiming the company did not adequately protect them during the storm.

Eight people died when the storm hit; there were 110 people inside the building.

The lawsuit was filed in Graves Circuit Court on behalf of Elijah Johnson and other “similarly situated” employees of Mayfield Consumer Products. The suit claims the company refused to let its employees leave the factory Friday night, even though the factory had “at least 3 hours’ notice of the danger” the severe weather could bring.

This amounts to “flagrant indifference” to the rights of Johnson and other workers, the lawsuit claims.

A lawsuit represents allegations from one side of an issue. Bob Ferguson, a spokesperson for Mayfield Consumer Products, could not be immediately reached for comment. Ferguson said this week that employees were free to leave without retribution.

Attorney William Davis of Lexington, who filed the lawsuit, has not yet responded to requests for comment. 

Amos Jones, a Washington, D.C. based attorney working with Davis on the case, said they decided to file the lawsuit after the company retained a public relations firm to deny the claims of surviving employees.

“It’s not even spin, it's a cover up,” Jones said Thursday. Jones issued a press release this week claiming a “smoking gun”:  he later told KyCIR that an employee had a recording backing up the claims they faced firing if they left. But there are no details about the evidence or allegations in the lawsuit beyond those cited in news stories.

When asked about the evidence, Jones said they have information they plan to turn over to state and federal investigators.

OnTuesday, Mayfield Consumer Products CEO Troy Propes announced in a statement that the company had hired experts to investigate how managers handled the storm. 

“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.

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.

Jared Bennett is an investigative reporter and deputy editor for LPM. Email Jared at jbennett@lpm.org.

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