United States: Who Should Hold The Bag For Employment Liabilities When The Portfolio Company Goes "Belly-Up"? The Private Equity Firm, Maybe

Last Updated: January 17 2014
Article by Jessica W. Catlow

In the world of private equity, vast sums of money are raised by private investors who pool their money into collective funds in order to acquire companies, i.e., a "portfolio company", with the goal of eventually flipping the portfolio company at a significant profit. Sometimes, however, that bet goes wrong, and the portfolio company is sold at a loss or, worse, liquidated in bankruptcy. In August, we reported on a court decision holding that a private equity fund could be liable for its portfolio company's unfunded pension liabilities following the portfolio company's bankruptcy. And now, in Young v. Fortis Plastics, a court has held that the private equity firm itself could be liable for WARN Act liability when the portfolio company goes belly up.

In the cases of mass layoffs or plant closings, the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (or "WARN Act") requires covered employers to give terminated employees at least 60 days advance notice of termination. If the employer fails to do so, the employer may be liable for the wages and benefits that the affected employees would have received if they had been given proper notice. But just who is an "employer" under the WARN Act?

Private equity firms make their money from a management fee of 1.5-2.0% charged by the funds, and the rake of 20% of the profits when the portfolio company is sold. One of the hallmarks of the private equity model is the firm's close involvement in the operations and management of the portfolio company, and investment professionals from the private equity firm often sit on the board of the portfolio company. In a recent decision in the United States District Court in Indiana, the court held that such close management oversight of the portfolio company could result in "single employer" liability under the WARN Act.

Fortis Plastics, located in Indiana, owns and operates plastics manufacturing facilities, and is owned by Monomoy Capital Partners, L.P., a private equity firm. In connection with the closing of one if its facilities, Fortis Plastics failed to provide 60 days' notice to employees who were terminated in connection with the closing. An employee sued Fortis Plastics claiming that Fortis Plastics, as the direct employer, was responsible for the wages and benefits due for the 60 day period. The employee also, however, sued Monomoy for the wages and benefits under the theory that, although Monomoy was not the direct employer, it was a "single employer" for purpose of the WARN Act.

Under the "single employer" doctrine, WARN Act liability can extend to certain affiliated companies other than the direct employer if certain conditions are met. The Indiana District Court followed other courts in using the Department of Labor's 5 factor test for determining whether such an affiliated company may have WARN Act liability. Normally, independent contractors and subsidiaries which are owned, all or in part, by a parent company are treated as separate employers. But they may be treated as a "single employer" with the subsidiary or affiliate depending on the degree of their independence from each other. The 5 factors used by the DOL in analyzing the dependence are (1) common ownership, (2) common directors/officers, (3) de facto exercise of control, (4) unity of personnel polices emanating from a common source, and (5) the dependency of operations. As the court in the Fortis Plastics case noted, "de facto control" over the operations of the company is one of the most important factors and may warrant liability even in the absence of the other factors.

According to the allegations in the complaint, Monomoy investment professionals had a continuous presence at the facility, had weekly calls with management, and ultimately made the decision to close the facility. The court held that these allegations were sufficient to establish "de facto control" of Monomoy over Fortis Plastics and that factor in combination with the common ownership, could result in single employer liability. Notably, the court held that the former employee plaintiff could not establish the other 3 factors, but allowed the case to go forward because the employee had made allegations satisfying the common ownership and "de facto control" factors.

While the Fortis Plastics case is still in its early stages, it is clear that courts may be more likely to find that private equity firms that are so closely involved with the management and operations of the portfolio company are a "single employer" with the portfolio company, resulting in potential liability under not only WARN but also under state mini-WARN acts and other employment statutes and regulations that extend liability to entities beyond the direct employer. The Fortis Plastics case should be a reminder to private equity firms to ensure that their relationship with the portfolio companies is indeed advisory, and if they have board oversight, they should ensure that the management team is primarily responsible for employment-related decisions.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
In association with
Related Topics
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Related Articles
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions