$100 Million Lawsuit Filed Against Forest City Enterprises -- Plaintiffs Represented by California-Based Senn Palumbo Meulemans.
Forest City Accused of Putting Employees and Community
at Risk By Improperly Removing and Illegally Disposing
Of Hazardous Materials
Forest City Enterprises, and its affiliates, the owners and renovators of the Colony Woods Apartments in Bellevue, Wash., and The Knolls Apartments in Orange, Calif., are being sued by 65 former employees for $100 million.
The employees allege that during renovation of these projects, Forest City illegally forced them to remove hazardous materials without any safety equipment, did not disclose the presence of asbestos, deadly molds and lead paint to the workers and illegally disposed of these hazardous materials into community landfills.
The plaintiffs are being represented by Kevin J. Senn and Catherine S. Meulemans of the San Francisco-based law firm, Senn Palumbo Meulemans LLP, in the suit filed in Los Angeles Superior Court on September 21, 1999.
"This is a true injustice affecting not only the workers, who were put at serious risk, but in many cases, their families, as workers, spouses and young children were encouraged to live in the projects in exchange for lower wages. This proved to be hazardous to their health and well being," said Senn.
"Forest City's focus on profits over the safety of their employees and the communities involved is inexcusable."
The suit alleges that in 1996, Forest City initiated extensive renovation of the Colony Woods project (also known as Pacific Village Apartments) in Bellevue, Wash., with federal funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The project encompassed 36 buildings separated into 396 units -- a significant portion of which were previously deemed unfit for human habitation by the City of Bellevue.
The project involved the removal of ceilings and flooring that contained asbestos and that were covered with mold and mildew found to be toxic to humans. "The state's Department of Labor & Industries inspected the property and cited Forest City for the very allegations that are in our complaint," Senn added.
The suit alleges that in December 1997, Forest City, acting as its own general contractor, hired a certified asbestos removal company to rid the apartment complex of asbestos laden ceilings and floors. After a small fraction of the work was completed, this company was dismissed by Forest City, and transient manual laborers were brought in to finish the job.
These workers were ordered to remove the asbestos- and mold- and mildew-laden material from the interior floors and ceilings without any protective clothing, respirators or safety equipment. In addition, the workers, none of whom were certified to handle such a job, worked without a supervisor certified in asbestos removal.
In the same complaint, Forest City, its affiliates, and a California general contracting firm, Red Line Construction, and its owner, were charged with similar conduct in the 1995 renovation of The Knolls, a 260-unit apartment complex in Orange, Calif.
As with the Colony Woods project, the suit alleges that Forest City was well aware of the presence of asbestos and lead paint on the project by virtue of an earlier environmental report, which disclosed all hazardous materials.
Nevertheless, Forest City and Red Line Construction forced numerous employees to toil for more than 18 months to remove asbestos-laden vinyl flooring and lead paint without any safety precautions. These hazardous materials were also illegally disposed of in public landfills.
Further, in violation of state law, Forest City failed to post disclosure of the presence of asbestos at either project. Instead, the company communicated to the workers that none of the materials contained asbestos and no safety precautions were necessary. Workers were informed that refusal to complete the work without safety equipment would be grounds for immediate termination.
The suit also alleges that hazardous materials from the projects were disposed of illegally and were simply thrown out the windows of the units into unapproved, unmarked waste receptacles or onto the ground. In addition, the suit alleges that Forest City intentionally and illegally dumped the hazardous materials into the city landfills, thereby polluting the nearby communities.
This improper removal and disposal saved Forest City approximately $1.5 million.
Senn Palumbo Meulemans LLP specializes in real-estate litigation with an emphasis on construction defect defense and premises liability. The firm also boasts strong general commercial business litigation, labor and employment and appellate practices. The firm has offices in San Francisco, Irvine and San Diego, Calif., as well as Las Vegas and Reno, Nev. where it practices as Practical Law Management.
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|Date:||Sep 21, 1999|
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