Former Art Van employees fight back against equity firm that cut off insurance without notice

Posted at 6:38 PM, Mar 27, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-27 18:38:35-04

(WXYZ) — When Art Van Furniture stores abruptly closed last week, they left thousands of employees without health care in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.

Now some of those former employees are fighting back, laying the groundwork for a class action lawsuit.

Those ex-employees say they feel as abandoned as the fully stocked furniture warehouse in Warren, that workers say is still stuffed with millions of dollars in inventory.

“They told us to stop, they told everybody get out of the warehouse and that was it. They had delivery trucks come back with furniture on them, and just left the furniture on the delivery trucks,” said former Art Van Furniture Delivery Manager Matthew DiFronzo.

DiFronzo says after 20 years of service, last week he and his co-workers were abruptly told they were terminated.

“In an epidemic that’s going on right now, we have no health insurance. Everything that’s taken place, they at least could have honored our insurance till May 5 like they promised,” said DiFronzo.

“It’s unfathomable to me that there’s so little compassion, empathy,” said Todd Stewart, the former manager of Art Van Furniture Lakeside. “It’s inhumane.”

Stewart is now a lead plaintiff on a class action adversary proceeding complaint filed in federal bankruptcy court. Stewart and other ex-employees want this certified as a class action lawsuit on behalf of at least 700 people who worked in the furniture company’s largest locations.

According to the complaint, Art Van’s parent company Thomas H. Lee Partners, or THL, failed to give those employees 60 days notice before shutting down, as required by something called the WARN Act.

Now those employees are suing to get any kind of health care coverage they can.

“I have lists upon lists of people with spouses who have cancer,” said Stewart. “I have a woman who thinks she has covid19 and she’s 37 weeks pregnant and can’t figure out how to get coverage.”

Stewart and DiFronzo also say dozens of Art Van Furniture employees could have been exposed to the coronavirus during those frantic final days of customers rushing the stores, demanding furniture they’d already paid for.

“As a human being, how can you treat people this way? How is that you can put your own personal greed ahead of the lives of 4,000 people,” said Stewart.

“I don’t blame David Van, Gary Van, Scott Van – they had no part in this, and I want that to be known to everybody out there that has hatred toward Art Van. This was done by T.H. Lee,” said DiFronzo. “What they did to our company was wrong.”

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