“We are, so to speak, in the wild west of the COVID litigation. It’s a new frontier, ”said Brian Spitz of Beachwood, employment law attorney.
YOUNGSTOWN – Vanessa Garltic claims she followed the state COVID-19 policy when she fell sick and stayed home from work in early May 2020 amid the first wave of the pandemic.
But the lawyers for the Struthers woman, who was a production manager at GLI Pool Products on Sinter Court, claim that her dismissal from that company shortly thereafter was unlawful.
Garltic’s civil lawsuit, filed last month in Mahoning County’s Common Pleas Court and re-filed in Ohio federal court on Monday, alleges that GLI allowed employees to work when they were sick and failed to do their own Implement security measures such as social distancing or provide disinfectants.
Garltic reported the company to the office of Governor Mike DeWine, the Ohio Department of Health and even Jamael Mayor Tito Brown for COVID-19 security breaches. Shortly thereafter, the company dismissed them in retaliation for these complaints, the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit alleges Garltic was given a “mass layoff number” in March. It is unclear whether other employees were fired at the same time, and lawyers speaking with Mahoning Matters declined to clarify this claim.
Garltic was “briefed” on 3. At the time, state officials encouraged sick employees to stay home and the new federal law allowed additional sick leave for employees suspected of being infected with COVID-19.
A GLI employee – whose full name is unknown but who presumably was a manager – reportedly told Garltic that she would have to return to work that day or be forced to quit – according to the lawsuit, further retaliation for her COVID-19 complaints . Garltic, who was making $ 16 an hour at GLI according to an affidavit from another employee of the company, ignored the ultimatum and did not sign her involuntary resignation, the complaint said.
Garltic alleges that GLI Pool Products retaliated again by calling the police for a “wellness check” on their home and reporting that they had been abused – an allegation that Garltic denies in their complaint.
That day, Garltic spoke to a member of the Human Resources Department who reportedly told her that her ultimatum to return to work or to be forced to resign was not authorized.
Garltic claims she was allowed to return to work on May 17, 2020, more than two weeks after first reporting her flu-like symptoms, but on May 8, 2020 she was allowed to return to work.
The lawsuit seeks the immediate reinstatement of Garltic at GLI Pool Products as well as the deletion of all “negative documents” in their personnel files and an unspecified amount of damages and financial damages, including their loss of wages.
Garltic’s attorney Brian Spitz, of Spitz’s Beachwood Law Firm, declined to comment on the details of Garltic’s case on Tuesday.
However, he said that COVID-related work claims were very common during the first wave of the pandemic. They are less so now, as he suspects that employees and companies have gotten used to the new coronavirus regulations.
Spitz’s company handles about a fifth of all work requests filed in Ohio, he said. These cases are now hitting court records across the state.
“We are, so to speak, in the wild west of the COVID litigation. It’s a new frontier, ”said Spitz.
Spitz law firm also represents a former Ventra Salem employee whose July lawsuit alleges the company ignored her disability in diagnosing cancer and fined her for missed work due to her cancer treatments and COVID-19 restrictions in Ohio, which resulted in that they will be terminated.
“Any time there is a claim in which an employee obeys the law and health regulations and is fired for it or takes revenge against it, that is a good public policy claim,” said Spitz.
Faith Terreri, director of the urban health district’s environmental health department that deals with local enforcement of COVID-19, said the department had logged at least three complaints related to GLI pool products. These include a question from an employee about the legality of potential mandatory testing in the company, a notice of a suspected coronavirus outbreak – at least six GLI employees tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this year, Terreri said – and a complaint against the company was disregarded the state security protocols.
The inspection of the district in mid-November 2020 at GLI did not raise any red flags, said Terreri. Advance notice is not given for most city health district inspections – usually when unsafe work environments require additional precautions, she said. It is unclear whether the employer knew health inspectors would arrive that day.
Terreri said the inspectors “see if they have basic logs,” such as temperature checks on staff at the door, additional cleaning measures, and social distancing or barriers.
“It looks like they did pretty much all of that … at least when we went out and did inspections,” Terreri said.
A representative from GLI Pool Products was not immediately available on Tuesday for comment.
Spitz said employees who believe they have been illegally fired should seek free advice from a lawyer.
“For everyone who wants to pursue these claims: [Employers] will find the biggest defense companies they can find. Employees should do the same, ”said Spitz.