UPDATE: Supreme Court affirms decision in furniture employees’ case

JACKSON – Franklin Corp. must pay more than $8.5 million damages to four workers who say they suffered medical problems while working at a Franklin furniture plant, a Mississippi Supreme Court decision Thursday means.

The unanimous decision, written by Justice Mike Randolph, also affirmed a May 2007 decision by Circuit Judge Andrew Howorth to reduce punitive damages to $5 million from the $7.5 million awarded by a Calhoun County jury.

Nearly $1.925 million in actual damages were awarded. Interest added to the total boosts it in excess of $8.5 million.

Ridgeland attorney Heber Simmons III praised his clients, who sued Franklin – Pauline Tedford and Lora Smith of Eupora, Judy Haire of Vardaman and Samantha Mixon of Houston. They worked at Franklin Corp. for different lengths of time between 1999 and 2004.

“Their standing up for this provided the Mississippi Supreme Court with the opportunity to clarify this point,” he said, “to say to workers, ‘We’re not going to allow this, under these facts.’”

Simmons said the key issue was whether workers could bypass the Mississippi Workers Compensation Commission with their complaint, which was based on accusations Franklin officials intentionally disregarded their concerns and the health hazards of their using a specific glue in a unventilated facility.

“What I told these ladies today when I called them,” Simmons said, “is that I wanted them to know … that in their lifetime, they made a difference.”

Franklin cannot appeal because no federal issues were involved. They could ask for a rehearing, but that may be unlikely with the court’s unanimous vote.

Franklin’s attorney, James L. Robertson of Jackson, said he’s weighing all options.

The original lawsuit was filed Aug. 17, 2004.

The four employees alleged that they repeatedly asked management whether the adhesive they sprayed on foam cushioning was causing nausea, dizziness, laryngitis, coughing, headaches and other medical problems.

Franklin Corp. is one of the largest privately owned furniture manufacturers in the United States with about 1,200 workers.

Contact Patsy R. Brumfield at (662) 678-1596 or patsy.brumfield@djournal.com.

 

Patsy R. Brumfield/Daily Journal