Ex-Employee on Solyndra-White House Controversy: 'It Was a Complete Shock'

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," September 15, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Tonight: The Solyndra scandal is setting people on fire! Why did the Obama administration push and then guarantee a $535 million loan to a company that was wobbly at best and has now gone belly-up? Not only are we, the taxpayers, on the hook for this federally guaranteed loan, but 1,100 workers were fired on the spot with no notice by the company executives.

Peter Kohlstadt filed a class action lawsuit against Solyndra, claiming the company failed to comply with labor laws, leaving employees in the dust with no notice and no severance pay. Former Solyndra employee Peter Kohlstadt joins us. Good evening, sir.


VAN SUSTEREN: Sir, tell me, first of all, what does Solyndra do? What's the business of Solyndra?

KOHLSTADT: So we make -- well, we made solar panels for businesses, mainly, you know, for their rooftops.

VAN SUSTEREN: And how long had you worked for Solyndra?

KOHLSTADT: I've worked there for a little over four-and-a-half years, so I started almost in the beginning, you know, a year -- you know, the company was a year old at that point when I started.

VAN SUSTEREN: Tell me how you found out that you were essentially out the door, you'd lost your job, and when that was.

KOHLSTADT: Well, basically, it was a Wednesday morning. I got a phone call from a buddy. He basically said, At 7:30 in the morning, they're closing their doors. You know, you might not -- you know, I need to come in right now. So he called a little later and said, yes, there's going to be a meeting at 9:00 o'clock, I should probably be here.

So I rushed in the car, I rushed over there and got into the meeting. And the CEO basically, you know, explained that the company was shutting its doors, and, you know, they're going to lay off, you know, almost all the employees, except for 10 percent or so.

So everybody was pretty shocked at that news. Nobody really said anything or asked him any questions. And everybody just kind of walked out at that point. So he spoke for maybe 10 minutes at the most, and we walked out and gathered our things together, in you know, boxes and things and went downstairs to HR, and they gave us a pamphlet. And I asked the HR person there, Are we going to be getting our vacation pay? And she said No, you're getting, you know, accrued -- 90 days accrued pay.

And I thought, "Well, that's ridiculous." So you know, at that point, I -- you know, I went out, and you know, kind of shell-shocked, you know, from the whole experience, and you know, went home, and you know, tried to gather my thoughts, and the next day filed the suit.

And I don't take it lightly, you know, this whole suit. It's something I would not normally do, but under the circumstances, I really had no choice.

VAN SUSTEREN: Did you have any idea that the company was in trouble? Were there any signs now with 20/20 hindsight to suggest to you this company was -- my word -- wobbly?

KOHLSTADT: They were hiring people, you know, a week prior. So you know, they were still hiring people. Things seemed pretty normal. You know, people would come and go. You know, we were transitioning over to manufacturing. You know, the equipment was basically all built. So, you know, now was the time to start building the product and selling it.

So you know, there was no indication that they were going to let go, you know, 1,000 employees, basically. There was no indication of that.

VAN SUSTEREN: What was your job there?

KOHLSTADT: It was a complete shock.

VAN SUSTEREN: What was your job there?

KOHLSTADT: Well, a research and development engineer, working in the product development group. So we basically did the assembly of the panels, all the pieces it took to -- you kind of put it together. You know, once the tube was made, then it was our task, our group, to design all the parts that kind of, you know, brought the whole thing together into a panel. So you know, and we were, you know, feverishly working on cutting costs of the panel, you know, to try and, you know, compete with, you know, the Chinese panels, basically.

VAN SUSTEREN: The CEO (INAUDIBLE) and the people at the management, did they -- did they live high off the hog, so to speak? Were they living lavishly? Did they seem to be spending lavishly or not?

KOHLSTADT: I would not have seen that. I don't know. I don't think so.

VAN SUSTEREN: Were you there when President Obama visited?

KOHLSTADT: I wasn't in the building. I was -- at the time, I was in another building. But I saw the live video feed of it. So it was -- it was -- it was a proud moment, you know, to have the president, you know, visit your company. And you know, at that point, we thought, Wow, we're -- you know, I think we're really going to make it, you know? You know, the president, you know, is kind of backing us, in a sense. And you know, you figure that, OK, you know, there may be some bumpy times, but, you know, ultimately, there was never a thought that they'd close their doors.

VAN SUSTEREN: When you mention those bump times, I mean, were there bumpy times? I mean, did -- I mean, did you have some question whether the company was thriving?

KOHLSTADT: Well, you know -- you know, the company transitioned from, like, an R&D status, in a sense, to manufacturing. So you know, employees were let go because they're transitioning more, you know, to a manufacturing company. So you know, it was just a normal transition in that sense. You know, there were some minor lay-offs here and there, but nothing that our group in product development really worried about that much. You know, we were trying to cut costs. So you know, we were needed.

VAN SUSTEREN: Peter, thank you. And I do hope you can find a job quickly. You know, I'm certainly mindful of the fact how tough the economy is and how rotten it is to get laid off, and especially under these conditions. But thank you very much for joining us, Peter, and good luck.

KOHLSTADT: Thank you very much.