An employee of a Geauga County cabinetry company has sued 22 of his co-workers for denying him a share of a $99 million lottery jackpot.
And, last week, a judge ordered the Ohio Lottery Commission to set aside about $2 million until Edward Hairston's claim is resolved in a trial.
Hairston contends that every month for eight years he pitched $5 into a lottery pool with co-workers at the KraftMaid company in Middlefield. While recuperating from a back injury, however, he failed to make contributions for lottery drawings in June, July and August.
Unfortunately for Hairston, the KraftMaid group picked the correct six numbers on a Mega Millions drawing on Aug. 5. After taxes and cash option costs, each member of the group stood to receive about $2 million.
Hairston showed up the next day to claim a share of the winnings, according to the lawsuit, but was told he was no longer a part of the group. He had missed three months worth of payments, and the other members had kicked him out.
"So, for a lack of $15, it cost him $2 million," said his lawyer, Howard Mishkind, who filed a lawsuit last month in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court.
The group's unwritten policy for years had been to cover for colleagues who were unable to make a monthly payment because of illness, vacation or other reasons, Mishkind said. The money would come from an account containing past winnings of smaller amounts.
On one occasion, the group made payments on behalf of a missing member for five months while she was on medical leave, the lawyer said. Hairston also covered for an absent co-worker with money out of his own pocket.
"I guess you can draw whatever conclusions you want to explain the defendants' motivation," Mishkind said. "Money sometimes has a way of changing a person."
Kerin Lyn Kaminski, a lawyer representing the winners, said the decision by the group to deny Hairston a share was nothing personal. Most of them work in the same building, and in the same department, and are fond of Hairston, she said.
Kaminski said the size of group varies from month-to-month, and that two people who participated in the pool in July didn't play in August when they won the jackpot — but didn't sue for a share.
She denied that special provisions were made in the past for absentee members of the pool, or that emailed reminders were sent to other members but not to Hairston, as he claims in the lawsuit.
"Put yourself in their position," Kaminiski said. "Everybody wishes everybody could win, but it doesn't always work out that way.
"These people are the salt of the earth, and hardworking," she said. "I really like these people. Some of them had a hard time getting by. We should all be glad they won."
Several of the winners already have quit their jobs at KitchenMaid, said Mishkind and Kaminski.
Beverly Kaser, one of three winners from Garrettsville, and the only defendant who could be reached for this story, declined to talk on the advice of her lawyer. Other winners reside in Mentor, Chardon, Painesville, Middlefield, Burton and Aurora.
Hairston, 39, of Youngstown, also declined to comment.
His lawyer said he is married with a 10-year-old daughter. He has worked at KraftMaid for 14 years, most recently as a logistics agent. Now, he needs a walker to get around, but hopes to recover from his back problems to return to work.
"He is doing what he believes, in principle, to be the right thing," Mishkind said. "It's not easy for him to stand up to these folks, especially when he intends to go back to work. But he feels he's not getting all that he is entitled to."
In court last week, Judge Eileen T. Gallagher ordered the Lottery Commission to set aside 1/23rd of the Mega Millions jackpot, and to release the rest of the money — minus taxes and fees — to the 22 defendants in the lawsuit.
They haven't received their winnings yet, but should within several days, lottery officials said.
Gallagher scheduled a jury trial for Dec. 12 to decide Hairston's legal claim.