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Airline Sued by Fired Single Mom Over Coronavirus Family Leave

April 16, 2020, 10:24 PM

Eastern Airlines LLC and two company executives allegedly fired a single mom who requested leave under the federal coronavirus relief law after her son’s school closed, according to a lawsuit filed in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

Stephanie Jones, the airline’s former director of revenue management, said in a complaint filed Tuesday that her repeated inquiries and requests for paid family leave benefits under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (Public Law 116-127) led CEO Steve Harfst and executive Joseph Marotta to fire her.

The lawsuit may be one of the first filed accusing an employer of violating the federal law created in response to the ongoing Covid-19 outbreak.

The federal mandates, effective April 1, generally require companies to pay up to 10 weeks of partially paid family and medical leave to workers who need to care for a child in the event of school or day-care closures because of the outbreak of the coronavirus. The FFCRA gives workers at companies with more than 50, but fewer than 500 employees, the right to bring cases to court for a jury trial. That includes through class or collective actions.

Labor and employment attorneys previously told Bloomberg Law that the coronavirus response law would likely be the source of major litigation by the plaintiffs’ bar due to the uncertainty about what’s expected of employers and confusion over how to determine which workers are covered by the new mandates.

School Closed

Jones requested leave after her 11-year-old son’s school was closed due to the outbreak. Eastern Airlines has under 500 employees, Jones said in her lawsuit, which argues she’s eligible to receive benefits under the new federal law.

Jones said she had difficulty balancing long hours at work with caring for her son. On March 20, she requested at least two hours per day to care for her son, as well as the ability to work from home.

On March 23, she discussed her child care and leave concerns over the phone with Marotta, who was acting as chief human resources official for the company, and raised her eligibility for leave under the FFCRA. On March 24, Jones formally requested FFCRA leave in an email to Marotta and CEO Harfst.

Marotta allegedly responded that the new law wasn’t supposed be used as “a hammer to force management into making decisions which may not be in the interest of the company or yourself.”

Three days later, Jones said she was fired by Marotta over the phone. Marotta allegedly said she had “conflict” with others in the company, a claim Jones denied, the lawsuit said.

Causes of action: Interference and retaliation under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.

Relief: Wages, employment benefits, or other compensation denied or lost; liquidated damages; employment, reinstatement, promotion, or payment of health-care expenses; and attorneys’ fees, costs, interest, and tax consequences for any awards in plaintiff’s favor.

Response: Eastern Airlines didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Attorneys: Edward Sweeney of Wusinich & Sweeney in Exton, Pa., represents Jones. Attorneys haven’t yet entered an appearance for Eastern Airlines.

The case is Jones v. Eastern Airlines, LLC, E.D. Pa., No. 20-01927, complaint filed 4/16/20.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jaclyn Diaz in Washington at jdiaz@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jay-Anne B. Casuga at jcasuga@bloomberglaw.com

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