LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — Opening statements were heard Tuesday in a class action lawsuit filed by more than 25,000 Jewish families alleging that a Southland cemetery conducted improper burials and discarded human remains of loved ones.

The lawsuit was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court in 2009 against Service Corporation International (SCI), the operator of Eden Memorial Park in Mission Hills.

“The families allege that for 25 years cemetery workers at the direction of management routinely broke open caskets and discarded human remains in a “dump” area on cemetery grounds in order to make more graves fit in the cemetery,” attorneys said.

The class period extends from Feb. 1985, when SCI assumed management of the cemetery, until the lawsuit was filed.

Employees at the 67-acre cemetery allegedly admitted to the conduct in 2007 internal company memos, which will likely be used in the trial, according to attorneys.

Damages have been estimated at more than $500 million.

“There is no credible evidence to support the plaintiff’s claims, as the jury in this case will soon see,” Steve Gurnee, trial lawyer for SCI, said.

The defense argues, meanwhile, that the charges are alleged by two disgruntled former employees.

“All the rest of (the employees) are going to say ‘Bologna, that didn’t happen, we were never told to break anything, and we never threw remains out’,” the defense said.

SCI is the largest cemetery operator and owner in the United States.

(©2014 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)

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