Institute students file lawsuit against Wacker Polysilicon
by DAVID DAVIS Managing Editor
Sep 29, 2013 | 2627 views | 0 0 comments | 2 2 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Former students who attended Wacker Institute at Chattanooga State Community College have filed lawsuits for breach of employment contracts with Wacker.

So far, about 10 graduates of the institute are asking for damages equal to the amount of salary and the value of the benefits Wacker would have paid them from April 1 until the case is settled or Wacker puts them to work.

Attorneys Pamela Rymer O’Dwyer, Paty Rymer & Ulin P.C.; and John W. Chandler Jr., of the law office of Morgan Adams, originally filed the 40-page suit in Bradley County Chancery Court. It was moved Sept. 13 to U.S. District Court in Chattanooga.

Chandler was unable to issue a comment when contacted Friday morning.

A statement issued by the company stated, “Throughout our 100-year history, Wacker has demonstrated a strong commitment to our people, to the environment, and to society. Our products, as well as our internal policies and procedures, reflect this fundamental commitment. We want to assure the community that Wacker remains committed to our investment in Bradley County, and our employment goals to support economic growth in the region through construction and operation of our facility.

“Wacker has always been a flexible, market-oriented company, and in this instance, we had to adjust our construction timeline and our growth strategy due to the prevailing global economic and market conditions facing the polysilicon industry.

“Although we were able to preserve the jobs of our employees, we were unable to begin employment of the students at the present time. Nonetheless, we remain confident that the skills and education these students gained during their advanced technical training at Chattanooga State Community College will be of future value and can benefit them greatly, whether they ultimately join the Wacker Team, or whether their careers take them elsewhere.”

The action claims Wacker officials repeatedly made clear, unambiguous and definite oral promises to the plaintiffs on numerous occasions concerning when the new Wacker facility in Charleston would be completed and jobs at that facility.

According to the suits, the company led them on by saying the new facility would open in January 2013; that all of the polysilicon manufactured the first two years of operation was already sold.

They were promised careers with opportunities for advancement as chemical or lead operators with a starting annual salary of approximately $50,000, full benefits and $3,000 starting April 1.

In a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, J. Bartlett Quinn, Chambliss, Bahner & Stophel P.C., stated numerous grounds justifying the dismissal of each of the plaintiff’s 10 causes of action.

In addition, “the core of Defendants’ Motion is simple: Wacker Polysilicon extended the plaintiff a conditional offer of at-will employment at its Charleston, Tennessee facility, which is under construction. The offer indicated a scheduled start date of April 1, 2013. Because of circumstances over which Defendants’ had no control, Wacker Polysilicon delayed opening its Charleston facility and deferred the plaintiff’s start date to coincide with the facility’s startup. Can the plaintiff recover from Defendants because of the deferred start date? The answer to this question is ‘no.’”

Plaintiff Michael W. Bridges Jr., one of the 10 plaintiffs, stated that he was accepted to enter the second class at the Wacker Institute that began on Aug. 28, 2011. On Feb. 8, 2012, he accepted Wacker’s offer of employment. He subsequently graduated Dec. 15, 2012, from Wacker Institute with a 3.7-grade point average and met all conditions of employment within his control.

Believing his employment with Wacker would begin April 1, Bridges turned in his notice in late January 2012 at McKee Bakery where he had worked six years and nine months. His last day of employment was Feb. 2, 2012.

Bridges stated he attended a Wacker job offer ceremony Feb. 3, 2012, at the construction site in Charleston where he was provided a written offer of employment.

According to an attached exhibit, the offer stated, “We are pleased to confirm our offer of employment as Chemical Operator with Wacker Polysilicon North America. Your starting wage will be $19/hour effective on your first day of employment, which is scheduled for April 1, 2013.”

However, the complaint stated he received a personnel announcement from Wacker Polysilicon N. A. Human Resources Director Ericka Burk dated Oct. 25, 2012, thanking him for his commitment. It also stated the company was realigning its construction schedule because of changes in the global polysilicon market.

According to one of the exhibits attached to the suit, “… To remain a competitive leader within the market, Wacker must adapt to the fluctuating prices and overcapacity within the supply chain. Accordingly, Wacker announced on Oct. 24, 2012 that the company’s Charleston, Tennessee polysilicon production facility will commence operations in mid-2015. The refined schedule aligns WACKER’s global polysilicon capacity with anticipated customer demand and, again, ensures that the company will remain competitive within the ever-changing polysilicon environment.

“Despite the modified timeline, the commitment to our investment, capacity and employee targets remains unchanged.

“Now that we have identified the date on which we will produce polysilicon in Tennessee, we are aligning our construction schedule and staffing dates to correspond with the commencement of production. We have determined that the chemical operator position will not be required in Charleston until the second half of 2014. Accordingly, the offer previously extended to you is being deferred until that time.

“Students and graduates who previously received an offer for employment with Wacker will receive first consideration once we resume the hiring process in 2014. We request that you maintain current contact information with the Human Resources Department. If you remain interested and have met all applicable pre-employment requirements, you will be eligible for the signing bonus as stated in your original offer letter at the time of your start date.”

According to the motion to dismiss, Wacker Polysilicon did not withdraw, rescind, or terminate the conditional offer of employment.

“The plaintiff has not satisfied any of the conditions stated in the conditional offer of employment, except that he has completed his studies at the Wacker Institute. The plaintiff apparently was upset with Wacker Polysilicon’s decision to defer his start date and filed this lawsuit, seeking recovery from Defendants because his employment at Wacker Polysilicon that it did not begin on April 1, 2013.”

A scheduling conference is set for March 28, 2014.