Former Old Country Buffet Employees Sue Company After Abrupt Closures

Earlier this year, the owner of Hometown Buffet, Ryan’s Buffet, Fire Mountain, and Old Country Buffet abruptly closed ore than 160 restaurants without giving any advance notice to employees and then filed for bankruptcy — but not before hiring auctioneers to sell anything in the restaurants that wasn’t leased or nailed down. Now, a group of former employees have filed a lawsuit seeking class-action status against Food Management Partners, the company that once ran the buffet restaurants, for not giving them a heads up as required by federal law. 

Four former employees of an Illinois Old Country Buffet filed the suit [PDF] against Food Management Partners in federal court recently, accusing the company of violating the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act by failing to provide 60-day notice of the closures.

Under the Act, companies are required to provide 60 calendar-day advance notification of plant closings and mass layoffs of employees if 50 or more workers will lose their jobs.

According to the lawsuit, Food Management Partners, which operated the buffet restaurants under the Ovation Brands name, gave no notice on March 7 before closing 92 locations. Prior to these closures, the lawsuit claims the company failed to give advance notice to employees of 74 locations that were closed in February.

The employees cite their specific restaurant closures as being in violation of the WARN Act, claiming that at least 50 full-time employees were affected by the abrupt closure.

Based on this evidence, and the news reports that 166 restaurants closed in all, the suit alleges that these other closures were in violation of the WARN Act, as well.

“On information and belief, and based on their own situation, plaintiffs allege that one or more other restaurants shut down on a permanent basis in proximity to March 7, 2016, at the direction of FMP had more than 50 employees who were working more than 20 hours a week,” the suit states.

By filing the suit, the employees are seeking to be paid for the 60 days that the company would have been required to keep the locations open and operating.

Food Management Partners’ closure of the Ovation Brands restaurants has been marred by controversy, including the fact that the group had previously filed for bankruptcy two times since 2008.

Consumerist previously looked over the group’s court filings, finding more questions than answers.

There’s the bankruptcy’s timing in relation to a pending multimillion-dollar food poisoning judgement against Ovation. Not to mention the immediate auction of the contents of many restaurants — and the subsequent attempt to get those items back.