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Lawsuit claims RealEats must pay workers 2 months' wages after abrupt shutdown

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The first lawsuit has been filed against mail-delivery meal service RealEats, a Geneva company that abruptly shut down this month putting more than 120 people out of work.

In the aftermath, the outrage has focused mainly on the lack of notice.

State Assemblyman Jeff Gallahan, R-Manchester, Ontario County, has called for state investigations. Now a former employee, Yvonne Winter, is suing the company in federal court.

RealEats was founded in 2017, making locally-sourced meals shipped to your home in vacuum-sealed pouches. Founder and CEO Dan Wise was a single dad at the time and said he came up with the idea after facing countless dinnertimes where he had to choose between healthy and easy.

The company was the first million-dollar Grow New York winner and received millions more in government and private investment as it grew. Just last summer, Wise was celebrating the opening of a new 80,000-square-foot production facility.

But it’s unclear whether the company ever turned a profit.

Then on March 1, two days after posting its latest new menu item, the company notified customers it had closed.

The abrupt shutdown, which the company has blamed on economic conditions and a lender, is problematic because federal and state laws require businesses of a certain size to provide advance notice of any mass layoff or plant closing.

Federal law says 60 days. New York law says 90.

The added time is meant to give agencies time to mobilize support and employees time to prepare, and to ultimately shorten the time workers spend on unemployment.

RealEats filed a notice one week after its closing, records show, dated to the date of closure. On its Facebook page, the company directed employees to Ontario County Workforce Development, while telling them that they likely will quality for unemployment benefits and job training.

“After receiving millions of dollars in direct New York State funding and other subsidies, RealEats should not feel they are exempt from complying with our laws,” Gallahan wrote to the state Attorney General’s Office and Department of Labor. “The people they employed, their families and the community this plant closure affects are owed this respect.”

The federal law is enforced through private legal action.

Winter is seeking class action status and claims the company owes its workers 60 days of lost wages and benefits, including accrued vacation time. RealEats likely would need to show that it could not foresee the circumstances resulting in its closure.

Representatives of RealEats have not responded to messages seeking comment.

The Attorney General's Office is reviewing the matter and encourages any consumers or former employees to file complaints with the office, a spokesperson said.

Brian Sharp is WXXI's investigations and enterprise editor. He also reports on business and development in the area. He has been covering Rochester since 2005. His journalism career spans nearly three decades.