Lawsuit by Sealed Air employees alleges they were deprived of bonuses

Bubble Wrap streams out of a production line Sealed Air's plant in Saddle Brook, N.J., in this 2010 photo.
Bubble Wrap streams out of a production line Sealed Air's plant in Saddle Brook, N.J., in this 2010 photo. AP

Two employees of the Sealed Air Corp. facility in Spartanburg are suing the maker of packaging and cleaning products, alleging they and hundreds of others were wrongly denied bonus pay after the company changed the way it calculates year-end performance bonuses.

They claim the company’s policy change violated multiple states’ wage laws and breached their contracts as employees. Sealed Air denied the plaintiffs’ claims.

Cathy Parker and Rick Hayden – of Spartanburg and Richland counties in South Carolina, respectively – filed their class-action claim in February in U.S. District Court in New Jersey, where the company was based. Sealed Air is moving its headquarters to Charlotte, where it broke ground on its offices June 25.

According to the complaint, the Sealed Air bonus program worked like this: Performance goals were set at the beginning of the year and workers were rated on a five-point scale. At year’s end, employees had to be rated at least 2.8 out of 5 to receive a bonus, which they would receive during the first quarter of the following year, according to the complaint.

The claim says both plaintiffs received a 3.0 rating at the end of 2012 and then were told in February 2013 that a new grading policy lowered their rating to 2.7, making them ineligible for bonus pay. The plaintiffs claim the retroactive downgrade cost them, and 15 percent of the employees eligible, their performance bonuses and was not done in good faith.

In a response, Sealed Air attorneys wrote: “The plaintiffs’ claims are barred because defendant paid plaintiffs all salary and/or wages due to them during the course of their employment, and, therefore, is not liable to plaintiffs for any unpaid wages.”

It also said the plaintiffs were not due any bonuses because they already had breached the performance bonus program or failed to perform their duties under the program.

Sealed Air, whose best-known product is Bubble Wrap, announced its relocation to Charlotte in July 2014, lured by more than $40 million in incentives from state and local economic development organizations. When it moves into its corporate headquarters in early 2017, it plans to have a workforce of almost 1,300.

Representatives of Sealed Air declined comment Thursday. Staff Researcher Maria David contributed.