Medical PPE Maker Didn’t Give Covid-19 Leave, Lawsuit Says (1)

June 2, 2020, 6:24 PM; Updated: June 2, 2020, 7:22 PM

A Florida-based manufacturer of personal protective equipment for health-care professionals unlawfully fired a worker and refused to pay her when she was out sick with Covid-19 symptoms, according to a federal lawsuit in Florida.

Barrier Technologies LLC terminated Tracey Graham, a professional embroiderer for the company, who took sick time after she became ill with symptoms consistent with the coronavirus and was directed by a doctor to isolate for seven days, the complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida said.

Graham’s attorneys with Wigdor Law said it’s one of the first lawsuits of its kind alleging wrongful termination and unlawful denial of paid leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act and the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act. Congress passed the measure as the virus spread across the country to guarantee more workers access to paid leave.

The law gives workers at companies with more than 50 and fewer than 500 employees the right to bring cases over covornavirus-related leave to court, and some attorneys predicted this could lead to a wave of litigation. Kroger Co., Eastern Airlines LLC, and metal fabrication company Steel It LLC have already been sued for allegedly violating the law.

A former employee for Eastern Airlines previously sued saying the company refused her requests to take time off to care for her child, whose school closed as the coronavirus hit their town.

Barrier, based in Davies, Fla., says on its website it manufactures “Covid-19" personal protective equipment for medical professionals. Graham was recruited to work for the company in February 2020, she said in her complaint. She became ill with Covid-19 symptoms on April 10 and was told her position was eliminated less than a week later, she alleges. The lawsuit claims the company said she wouldn’t be paid for sick time.

Graham’s attorneys Parisis Filippatos and Bryan Arbeit said in a statement that Congress passed the sick leave law so that “everyday workers would not have to choose between earning a paycheck and risking the spread of deadly illness.”

Filippatos said employers have already used the excuse of the pandemic to justify unlawful behavior and expects the trend to continue. The attorneys also said some workers, particularly those in low-wage positions, may not be sure of their legal rights.

“This case is a clear violation of the law, and in a way that the employer engaged in exactly the conduct intended to be prohibited,” Filippatos said.

Causes of Action: Unpaid sick leave, interference, and retaliation in violation of the FFCRA and the EPSLA.

Relief Sought: A judgment that the employer’s actions violate the law; an injunction and order restraining the company from engaging in unlawful conduct; damages; attorneys’ fees and costs.

Response: The company didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Attorneys: Wigdor LLP represents Graham. Attorneys haven’t yet entered an appearance for Barrier.

The case is Graham v. Barrier Techs., LLC, S.D. Fla., No. 0:20-cv-61080, complaint filed 6/2/20.

(Updated with additional reporting.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Erin Mulvaney in Washington at emulvaney@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jay-Anne B. Casuga at jcasuga@bloomberglaw.com; Martha Mueller Neff at mmuellerneff@bloomberglaw.com

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