CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Former employees of Piggly Wiggly say their retirement funds are gone and they are blaming company officials, a federal lawsuit states.
James Lewis worked for Piggly Wiggly for 42 years.
Lewis managed the frozen foods and produce departments until his retirement in 2012.
At the end of January, Lewis and other former workers got their employee stock ownership statements from the company.
"All I can say is, 'Lord, have mercy,'" Lewis said after seeing his employee stock ownership plan statement.
Lewis looked at the value of his account and saw nothing but zeros. Lewis says he lost around $30,000.
A letter sent to Lewis and other former employees stated that the value of the plan assets went from $9.98 million to $456,741 dollars in a years time.
Company president David Schools wrote, "Those of us with employee stock ownership account balances are greatly disappointed in this development, but it us unavoidable at this time."
"I guess I have to say the upper-level management and the corporation, David Schools, Mr. Newton, the board of directors. They're responsible for it," Lewis said.
Lewis is part of a class action lawsuit that was filed against Piggly Wiggly Carolina Company and its parent Greenbax Enterprises last year.
Those named in the suit include company president David Schools.
The suit claims the management "constantly prioritized protecting and enhancing their own personal interests and financial positions instead of the interests of plan participants." The lawsuit claims managers "misled plan participants about the condition of the company and company stock."
The suit goes on to say the company stock value dropped from $88 million to $9 million over eight years that "decimated the retirement savings of thousands of Piggly Wiggly employees, many who made salaries of less than $40,000 a year.
"Some people are working living paycheck to paycheck and when you see something like this, you know, it's just sad," Lewis said.
According to the suit, Piggly Wiggly was "hemorrhaging money", and that some top company officials had perks including luxury cars including a new Mercedes Benz and a Jaguar convertible.
When asked by phone Wednesday if he can explain how the recent balances in the stock plans went to zero, Schools said, "Uh, no thanks, I appreciate you calling."
A trial date to hear the lawsuit has not been set.