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Workers at Kentucky candle company file lawsuit, claim they were told to work through tornado

Mayfield candle factory
Posted at 10:49 AM, Dec 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-17 10:49:25-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Workers at a Mayfield, Kentucky, candle factory have filed a lawsuit against their employer, Mayfield Consumer Products, claiming the company threatened to fire workers who left their posts ahead of a tornado outbreak that flattened the factory and left eight workers dead.

Jamie Rudolph says it is a miracle she is alive.

"Because even though I felt so weak, I thought I was going to die underneath there, I really did," Rudolph said.

She's recovering at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee, after being pulled from the rubble at the Mayfield Consumer Products factory.

"I'm just glad my wife is still here," her husband, Tim Rudolph, said.

During the rescue operation, Tim Rudolph talked to his wife's co-workers. He said workers were told they'd be penalized if they left work.

"Told them nobody could leave or else they'd get fired," Tim Rudolph said.

Other workers have made similar accusations against the company.

"I said, 'Man, are you going refuse to let us leave even if the weather is this bad and the tornado's not even here yet?'" Elijah Johnson said. "So, he was like, 'If you want to decide to leave, if you want to leave, you can leave, but you're going to be terminated, you're going to be fired.'"

A tornado reduced the factory to rubble. Mayfield Consumer Products confirms that eight people died.

"I can't sleep hardly, it's hurting me a lot," Tim Rudolph said.

In a statement, the CEO of Mayfield Consumer Products claimed management acted appropriately helped workers find shelter.

"We're confident that our team leaders acted entirely appropriately and were, in fact, heroic in their efforts to shelter our employees," the statement read, in part. "We are hearing accounts from a few employees that our procedures were not followed."

The company noted it would conduct an internal review and seek input on their emergency plan.

In filing a lawsuit against Mayfield Consumer Products, workers claimed the company had an obligation to protect them because they knew about the tornado threat several hours in advance.

Candle factory lawsuit
Civil complaint

The lawsuit says management urged employees to keep working after a tornado siren blared at 6 p.m. — more than three hours before the tornado hit the factory.

According to the lawsuit, the candle factory "even threatened to terminate any employee that left because of the expected tornado in the hours before the tornado actually hit."

The lawsuit also claims that company leaders may have kept the danger of the approaching tornado from employees, with one employee quoted as saying that "not one supervisor told us what was really going on."

"I don't think that's right," Tim Rudolph said.

Tim Rudolph believes if his wife had been home, she would have been safe because their town was not affected by tornadoes.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration says it will investigate the incident, noting that it's protocol to initiate an investigation when there's a workplace death. OSHA says its investigation is not tied to the worker lawsuit.

This story was originally published by Alexandra Koehn on Scripps station WTVF in Nashville.