Funeral home head fights lawsuit

Funeral home head fights lawsuit

Barry Wien is in a legal battle with the company that now owns the funeral homes bearing his name.

SCI New Jersey Funeral Services Inc. filed a lawsuit earlier this month alleging that Wien, who sold his five funeral homes to the Texas-based company 10 years ago, violated a July 1996 agreement not to compete by opening Long Island-based Wien & Son Funeral Directors last year and joining the Fort Lee-based Eden Memorial Chapels earlier this year.

In July 1996, SCI New Jersey acquired the capital stock of Wien & Wien Inc. and Gutterman and Musicant Funeral Directors Inc., which included the funeral homes in Englewood, Hackensack, Jersey City, Manalapan, and New York. Barry Wien and his cousin Frank were the sole shareholders of the two corporations. As part of the sale, Barry Wien signed a non-compete contract that stipulated he would not have direct or indirect involvement in any funeral, mortuary, or crematory business for ‘0 years within a 30-mile radius of the then-existing locations of the businesses.

Wien remained with SCI until March 3, ‘006, when SCI fired him. On March 30, ‘006, Wien created Wien & Son Funeral Directors on Long Island.

The suit names Barry Wien, Wien & Son Funeral Directors Inc., and Eden Memoral Chapels Inc. as defendants.

SCI charged that by forming an "affiliation" with Eden Memorial Chapels, Wien violated the non-compete agreement, and by using his name in Wien & Son, he misled the public into thinking it was affiliated with his former homes.

"Eden’s tortuous, wrongful, knowing, malicious, willful, and intentional interference" has caused damages to SCI, according to the complaint. SCI is seeking punitive damages in an undetermined amount from Eden.

In a March ‘ answer to the complaint, Wien acknowledged the terms of the non-compete agreement as stated by SCI in its suit. However, he maintained that the contract had not been violated, since it had guaranteed him employment in his former homes and he had been unfairly fired.

According to Peter T. Shapiro of Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith LLP, who is representing SCI, the company fired Wien for "looking at pornography on company computers." Wien denied such allegations, according to the response filed by Wien’s attorney, Bruce Atkins, of the firm Deutsch Atkins P.C.

According to that response, Wien — who would not comment on the allegations on the advice of counsel — said he was out of the office when the alleged violation of SCI policy took place. In counterclaims filed by Atkins, Wien alleged that he was fired because of discrimination based on his age and his religion — 61 and Jewish.

SCI also failed to fulfill Jewish requirements regarding burial, the counterclaim argues. Specifically, SCI required individual families to pay the full cost of a shomer — an observer or guard over the body before burial — when one shomer watched over multiple bodies. When he spoke up about this practice, SCI fired him, Wien said in the counterclaim.

Shapiro has until March ” to enter a reply to the counterclaim.

"We’re going to deny all his material allegations of discriminatory and improper grounds for termination," he told The Jewish Standard, "including the allegation [that SCI wasn’t] following accepted Jewish practices."

A call to Atkins was not returned as of Wednesday.

"All I’m trying to do is serve families in their time of need, which is something I’ve always done," Wien told the Standard. "This is what I do."

U.S. Magistrate Judge Esther Salas has ordered a scheduling conference at the U.S. Courthouse in Newark for May ‘3.

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