Law360 (August 4, 2020, 12:45 PM EDT) -- The parent of Enterprise Rent-A-Car has pushed back on a former rental agent's suit claiming the company's coronavirus layoffs violated the WARN Act, insisting that the pandemic falls under the statute's carveout for "unforeseeable" situations.
Florida rental agent Elva Benson sued the Enterprise Holdings Inc. and two Sunshine State affiliates in her home federal court in May, alleging that their decision to fire her and other employees without advanced notice ran afoul of the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, a federal law that mandates certain employers warn their workforce two months before a mass layoff.
However, employers are exempted from this requirement in the event of "unforeseeable business circumstances" including a "sudden, dramatic, and unexpected action or condition outside the employer's control," and the Enterprise trio argued in a dismissal bid Monday that the impact of the novel coronavirus virus falls squarely within this definition.
"If the COVID-19 pandemic does not qualify for that exception, particularly in a travel-related business, it is not clear what would," they said.
Benson contends that the Enterprise companies knew the business was struggling and a mass layoff was in the pipeline — furloughing her in March before her April termination — but the rental firm said they, like many other companies, were blindsided by the pandemic.
"Plaintiff claims that three completely separate companies should have predicted and (in her view) better reacted to the ongoing COVID-19 emergency that, just a few months ago, no one could have imagined would have occurred," they said.
The companies also insisted that Benson's complaint is threadbare, lacking enough detail to link her clearly to any of the three firms she said employed her.
"Based on the complaint, we do not know who hired plaintiff; who fired her; who set her work schedule and work hours; who supervised and directed her daily work; who determined her compensation; who paid her; or who maintained her employment file," they said. "The complaint thus forces this court to speculate about even the most basic facts of plaintiff's alleged employment relationship."
Benson's response to the dismissal bid has not yet been filed. Counsel and representatives for the parties did not respond to requests for comment.
Benson is represented by Brandon J. Hill and Luis A. Cabassa of Wenzel Fenton Cabassa PA.
Enterprise is represented by Christina M. Kennedy and Michael D. Leffel of Foley & Lardner LLP, and Jason C. Schwartz of Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP.
The case is Benson v. Enterprise Leasing Company of Florida, LLC et al, case number 6:20-cv-00891, in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida.
--Additional reporting by Hannah Albarazi. Editing by Rebecca Flanagan.
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