Lawsuit claims bankrupt Aquion Energy fired workers without notice

Aquion Energy, the bankrupt manufacturer of large-scale batteries, has been hit with a lawsuit from workers demanding 60 days’ pay after they were terminated by the company last month.

The lawsuit alleges that Lawrenceville-based Aquion Energy laid off about 115 employees without notice when it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last month. The suit was filed March 30 by Bryan A. Dilascio, a former technician at its manufacturing plant in Westmoreland County, and includes a request for class-action status to represent all workers terminated. 

Efforts to reach lawyers defending Aquion were unsuccessful. Suzanne Roski, a Virginia-based consultant listed as Aquion’s chief restructuring officer during the bankruptcy, also did not return requests for comment.

In a statement released with the bankruptcy filing March 8, the company said it was not making enough money to keep operations going. Aquion said it laid off about 80 percent of its personnel, keeping only a core research and development team, and that it had halted work at its factory in Mount Pleasant and paused marketing and sales efforts.

Those moves were made without notification under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act — commonly known as the Warn Act — which requires that most businesses with more than 100 full-time employees must give both state regulators and its workers at least 60 days' notice of a plant closure or mass layoff. The Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry confirmed that Aquion has not filed a notice. 

The state agency has received 31 Warn Act notices so far in 2017. They include a January notice that Macy’s will lay off 83 employees at the Beaver County Mall, a February notice that Akers National Roll Co.’s will lay off 170 steelworkers at its Avondale plant and a March notice that Indspec Chemical Corp. in Butler will lay off 220 people. 

Advance notice provides employees a chance to look for other work or to file for unemployment compensation. Pennsylvania officials use the Warn Act to guide its Rapid Response program, which assists terminated workers with job services.  

The law does not protect workers employed on temporary projects who are clearly informed of the short-term nature of their work. 

The suit filed in March claims Mr. Dilascio, and the rest of the  workers, were full-time employees at Aquion Energy who were blindsided by the layoffs. It demands 60 days’ worth of wages and benefits.

On Tuesday, Aquion lawyers were summoned by the court to respond to Mr. Dilascio’s complaint within 30 days. A pretrial conference is scheduled for June 20 in Wilmington, Del. 

The workers’ suit will play out in U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware, alongside the company’s bankruptcy proceedings.

Aquion Energy was spun out from Carnegie Mellon University in 2009 by Jay Whitacre, a CMU professor of materials science and engineering, attracting funding from venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.

The company has been producing aqueous hybrid ion batteries since summer 2011 and shipping them commercially since mid-2014, according to its website. It used millions in government grants and loans to build its Westmoreland County plant. 

Batteries like Aquion’s are considered the “holy grail” for widespread renewable energy development because they can store large amounts of energy for use during times when it is not easily produced — such as when the sun is not shining or when the wind is not blowing.

Daniel Moore:, 412-263-2743 and Twitter @PGdanielmoore.

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