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Published: Saturday, 6/10/2006

Suit seeks severance pay from carmaker

A lawsuit alleges that Ford Motor Co. has failed to make $100,000 incentive payments to unionized workers in Ohio who agreed to leave and sever ties with the carmaker.

In response to the complaint, which was originally filed in state court in Sandusky by a former Ford worker who lives in that city, the nation's No. 2 auto manufacturer this week asked a U.S. district judge in Toledo to transfer the case there.

The carmaker, which is being represented by the Columbus firm Baker Hostetler, argued in the motion that the dispute involves a collective bargaining matter that can only be heard in federal court.

Company lawyers also claimed that Wilbert Farris, the former Ford employee who brought the suit in early May in Erie County Common Pleas Court, was paid May 30.

But that will not end the case if other workers are still waiting to be paid, said Dennis Murray Jr., whose Sandusky plaintiffs' firm, Murray & Murray, brought the action. The lawsuit claimed Ford may have failed to pay "several hundred" workers in Ohio. It seeks class-action status.

Ford spokesman Kathleen Vokes said "a majority" of participants have received payments under the severance program, which was designed to improve the carmaker's financial performance through work-force reductions. She was unable to immediately say how many have been paid.

"Before Ford can issue payments, it must verify that employees are eligible for the program and then verify that all outstanding debts to the company, or any other legal obligations, such as garnishments, have been paid," she added.

The lawsuit filed by Mr. Farris stated that he was still waiting to be paid two months after accepting the company's offer March 6.

He and other workers were assured when they signed up that they would be quickly paid. But the "vast majority" were still waiting by early May. The lawsuit accuses Ford of breach of contract and making false representations.

Mr. Farris was employed at a Visteon plant in Sandusky for seven years. The plant, which was formerly part of Ford, was returned to the carmaker last year as part of an agreement between the Visteon, Ford, and the United Auto Workers to address company financial problems, according to the lawsuit.

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