Easom v. US Well Services, No. 21-20202 (5th Cir. 2022)Annotate this Case
Plaintiffs filed a class action complaint against their former employer, US Well Services, Inc. (“US Well”) for allegedly violating the WARN Act by terminating them without advance notice. The WARN Act requires covered employers to give affected employees sixty days’ notice before a plant closing or mass layoff. 29 U.S.C. Section 2102(a). The Act provides three exceptions to the notice requirement—including the natural-disaster exception, under which no notice is required.
The parties cross-moved for summary judgment. US Well argued that COVID-19 was a natural disaster under the WARN Act, and consequently, that it was exempt from the WARN Act’s notice requirement pursuant to the natural-disaster exception. Plaintiffs countered that COVID-19 was not a natural disaster and was not a direct cause of their layoffs.
Plaintiffs filed an interlocutory appeal seeking reversal of the district court’s order denying their motions for summary judgment and reconsideration. In its order denying Plaintiffs’ motions, the district court certified two questions for interlocutory appeal: (1) Does COVID-19 qualify as a natural disaster under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act’s (“WARN Act” or “the Act”) natural-disaster exception, 29 U.S.C. Section 2102(b)(2)(B)?; (2) Does the WARN Act’s natural-disaster exception, 29 U.S.C. Section 2102(b)(2)(B), incorporate but-for or proximate causation?
The Fifth Circuit held that the COVID-19 pandemic is not a natural disaster under the WARN Act and that the natural-disaster exception incorporates proximate causation. The court explained that based on the DOL regulation’s “direct result” requirement and binding precedent equating direct cause with proximate cause, the court held that the WARN Act’s natural-disaster exception incorporates proximate causation.