Ex-Kirby employees can join suit

Hundreds of former Kirby vacuum salespeople and appointment setters in the New Haven area will be allowed to join a lawsuit in U.S. District Court that charges the company with failing to pay a lawful wage and engaging in fraudulent hiring and recruitment practices.

Attorneys for New Haven Legal Assistance, which last year filed a class-action suit against The Kirby Co. and its Orange-based distributorship, S.Z. Enterprises, said last week that an attempt to have the legal action dismissed has failed. The court will send a notice to workers about the suit, according to the attorneys, and anyone affected will have 90 days to join the action.

"We believe that the evidence will show that these policies were widespread and affected workers beyond the Orange distributorship," said attorney James Bhandary-Alexander, in a statement.

The current suit does not cover former Kirby representatives from eastern Connecticut. Last year, Kirby and its Connecticut vacuum distributors, including Taftville's GP Industries of Norwich Inc., settled charges levied by the state alleging unfair sales practices, agreeing to pay a $25,000 fine and to stop high-pressure tactics.

In 2010, the state Department of Consumer Protection charged some Kirby representatives with refusing to leave customers' homes during sales calls and targeting older residents who sometimes felt intimidated by aggressive, high-pressure tactics.

The suit alleges that Kirby had promised sales representatives $500 to $800 a week in wages, but failed to deliver even close to that amount. Kirby kept wages down, according to the suit, by promising bonuses that never were attainable.

"Plaintiffs and other employees hoping to earn a living during hard times held on until they were either broke or figured the business for a scam," the suit said.

Kirby is a subsidiary of the Scott Fetzer Co., which in turn is owned by Berkshire-Hathaway.

l.howard@theday.com

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