About 100 protesters on Tuesday gathered outside the shuttered Rolf's Patisserie building Tuesday in Lincolnwood to announce a federal class-action lawsuit against the company for failing to notify its workers before abruptly shutting its doors.
The company issued final paychecks to its 130 employees, but many of those checks were returned for insufficient funds.
"We want out paychecks and we want our dignity," said Karen Lethal, one of the Rolf's workers filing suit.
The complaint alleges the company's failure to give 60 days' notice is a violation of the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act and the Illinois Wage Payment and Collection Act. It seeks unpaid wages and severance pay.
Arise Chicago, the group supporting the workers, says 136 employees were told Dec. 10 that Rolf's Patisserie would close for the weekend for cleaning. Workers were instructed to return Monday for work as usual.
On Dec. 11, a three-sentence announcement appeared on the company's website informing the public the plant was closed effective immediately.
"Due to sharply higher operating costs, the cost of financing an expansion project and the inability to operationally meet the seasonal demands of our customers, we have made this difficult decision," part of the statement on the site still reads. "We thank you for your patronage and we apologize for any inconvenience."
The inconvenience was extreme, said employees suddenly out of work two weeks before Christmas.
"It was devastating," said Deyanira Alvarez, a customer service representative at Rolf's for four years, in a statement. "After losing my job, my last check bouncing, our Christmas ruined–I'm still in total shock. I can't believe a job can hurt like this."
Some employees said they couldn't pay the fees from the bounced final checks. "Now that I have no job, how can I even afford to pay those fees?" said Karen Leyva, an office assistant manager of six years, in an email.
Community and religious supporters through Arise Chicago joined the workers at 11 a.m. in front of Rolf's Patisserie to attempt to deliver a letter and copy of the lawsuit.