Pa. Meat Processor Hit With Fits Over Denied Virus Depart


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Law360 (Apr 27, 2021, 5:07 p.m. EDT) – Two former employees said a Pennsylvania food company wrongly denied them permission to care for their children in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic and then in retaliation for them the taking ends free time, after lawsuits filed in federal court.

In separate complaints filed on Monday, Warren Rivera-Nigaglioni and Matthew Shepardson both alleged that John F. Martin & Sons of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania falsely claimed that they employed more than 500 people to meet certain requirements of the Family and Medical Leave Act and the Families First Coronavirus Response Act – specifically the parts where the company had to grant leave to workers who had to provide childcare because schools or other childcare options were unavailable during the pandemic. After both men had already taken time off to provide for their families, they were fired, the suits said.

“Mr. Rivera briefed supervisor, Keith Lehr, of his lack of childcare facilities due to the closings of schools and childcare facilities in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic. In response, Mr. Lehr informed Mr. Rivera that it was mandatory to continue work on his regular basis Hours and dismissed Mr. Rivera’s dilemma, “said Rivera’s complaint. “According to information and beliefs, John F. Martin & Sons has deceptively and incorrectly tabulated its employees to over 500 employees, thereby excluding the company and its employees from the FMLA and associated FFCRA benefits.”

The lawsuits both alleged that the meat and cheese company retaliated against the men in violation of the FMLA and FFCRA and accused the company of violating their rights under those laws.

Rivera, who has worked in the company’s shipping, receiving, and inventory department since 2016, said Governor Tom Wolf’s order to close schools and non-essential businesses at the start of the pandemic left him with no childcare options in March 2020, John F. Martin & Sons Employee Bulletin Board through the FFCRA, he asked Employee Representatives about his options for paid vacation to care for his family.

“Mr. Rivera was informed that his vacation requirement was inapplicable as the company could only grant FFCRA vacation for 5 of the 6 qualifying reasons,” said Rivera’s complaint. “John F. Martin & Sons purposely excluded the FFCRA’s # 5 Qualifying Reason, which provided leave to an individual who … is caring for a child whose school or care facility is closed (or the childcare provider is unavailable) Reasons related to COVID-19. “

After trying to alert Human Resources as to why childcare leave was not available, another manager told him for the first time that the law did not apply to the company because it had more than 500 employees. The same supervisor suggested Rivera stop working on days he was required to provide childcare, the complaint read.

But after a week of abandoning unpaid leave, the Rivera company sent a letter dismissing him for his absence. He claimed this was retaliation for trying to assert his rights.

“Shortly after Mr Rivera began to cancel, Mr Rivera was fired for repeated absenteeism,” the complaint read. “Mr. Rivera was entitled to benefits that were withheld and instead was immediately terminated.”

Shepardson’s suit tells a similar story. He had started taking FMLA leave to care for his then 6-month-old child and couldn’t find a replacement caregiver due to the pandemic. He applied for additional accommodation under the FMLA and FFCRA in mid-March 2020, but was denied, the lawsuit said.

As the senior surgical trainer and safety coordinator, Shepardson was offered shift work Monday through Friday from 7:00 p.m. to 12:30 p.m. on weekdays with additional hours on Saturdays, but the company reportedly failed to offer alternatives to the late shift or to accept its offer on weekdays from home and on weekends to work in the warehouse.

“Mr Shepardson stated his inability to work the suggested weekday hours as Mr Shepardson would have to stay awake for 20-22 hours due to childcare obligations,” the complaint read.

Shepardson said HR reportedly failed to make a follow-up call, claiming again that the company has more than 500 employees and is therefore exempt from legal requirements. Despite his offer to work the weekend to make up for his lack of availability during the week, Shepardson said the company fired him on May 4th.

An attorney for the former workers declined to comment on Tuesday. John F. Martin & Sons representatives did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Rivera and Shepardson are represented by Joshua P. Ward and Kyle H. Steenland of JP Ward & Associates LLC.

Counseling information for John F. Martin & Sons was not immediately available.

The cases are Rivera-Nigaglioni v John F. Martin & Sons, Case Number 5: 21-cv-01908, and Shepardson v John F. Martin & Sons, Case Number 5: 21-cv-01906, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

– Editing by Daniel King.

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