Judge orders settlement meeting in Cintas case

AP News
Posted: Nov 20, 2009 2:52 PM

Cintas Corp. and the widow of a former employee who is suing the company will have another chance to settle her 2007 wrongful death lawsuit against the nation's largest uniform supplier.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul J. Cleary ordered the two sides to meet on Jan. 12 to try to settle the case, avoiding the jury trial that's scheduled to begin in April.

Amalia Diaz Torres is suing Cintas, claiming the company's plant managers knew about _ and even encouraged _ dangerous working practices that led to the death of her husband, Eleazar Torres-Gomez, in 2007.

In her lawsuit, attorneys for Torres are seeking more than $10,000 in damages.

Cincinnati-based Cintas has denied the allegations, saying it never puts profits over worker safety.

Company spokeswoman Heather Maley said Friday she couldn't comment on any possible settlement talks, but added that Cintas "is confident that it will be exonerated from any wrongdoing in the unfortunate accident that led to the death of Eleazar Torres-Gomez when this case goes to trial."

One of Torres' attorneys, Rick Garcia, did not immediately return a message seeking comment Friday. His legal team has rarely discussed the case outside of court.

Both sides have struggled to find common ground in the high-profile case. On Tuesday, Cleary set up the Jan. 12 meeting that was similar to one that took place in March.

Last week, U.S. District Judge Claire Eagan denied a request by Cintas for summary judgment, paving the way for a jury to hear the case.

Eagan wrote in her opinion that there was "conflicting evidence" whether Cintas managers knew workers in company laundries were breaking safety rules to save time, but did nothing to stop them.

Cintas, which supplies and launders uniforms for restaurant and hotel employees and other workers, employs more than 34,000 people. It posted sales of nearly $4 billion in fiscal 2008.

On March 6, 2007, Torres-Gomez, a seven-year Cintas employee, climbed onto a slow-moving conveyor to clear a jam of wet laundry, instead of shutting off the machinery as he was supposed to do.

He jumped up and down on the clump and fell into the 300-degree dryer. Twenty minutes later, another employee heard his burned body banging around in the dryer and made the grisly discovery.

Last year, an Associated Press investigation found that in the year and a half after the accident in Tulsa, at least eight Cintas plants in six states had been cited by OSHA and state authorities for hazards similar to those that led to Torres-Gomez's death.

In December, the company agreed to pay almost $3 million in penalties to resolve federal occupational safety violations in six cases, including the Tulsa death.