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A wholesale and distribution company employee who was allegedly forced to resign after she had requested an accommodation to her working hours because her son’s school was closed, has sued her former employer, charging violations of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.
Experts have predicted the complex paid sick and family and medical leave law enacted in response to the coronavirus pandemic would likely lead to increased litigation against employers.
Lawsuits, in fact, were filed shortly after the law’s enactment.
MaryJo Delaney, who began work at Lock Haven, Pennsylvania-based Advantage Sales Ltd. as a processing manager in 2014, was informed by her employer that the company fell under an exception to the statewide lockdown ordered by Gov. Tom Wolf in March and would remain open, according to the lawsuit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, in MaryJo Delaney v. Advantage Sales Ltd. and Micah Clausen.
Mr. Clausen, the company’s owner and president, said in a statement sent to employees that any employee wishing to avoid potential contact with the virus could volunteer to be laid off and would not risk losing their job, according to the complaint.
With her 9-year-old son’s school closed because of the governor’s order, Ms. Delaney volunteered to be laid off, according to the complaint.
In May, Mr. Clausen informed her that he was calling all employees who had requested a voluntary layoff to return to work, and Ms. Delaney reported to work as instructed.
She requested that she work limited hours, but Mr. Clausen told her that her proposed schedule was not workable because she was a manager. He refused to allow her to take the leave and told her that if she took the leave she would be demoted when she returned to work.
Ms. Delaney proceeded to work on her proposed limited schedule, while also working extra hours to make up any missed time.
The complaint states that Mr. Clausen began to “overly scrutinize and nitpick” her work and subject it to unfair criticism, which he had not done before. “The unwarranted targeting and criticism became unbearable,” the complaint states. She was then demoted.
The complaint states that Ms. Delaney had no choice but to submit her resignation in June, and she was constructively discharged.
The complaint charges the company with interference and retaliation under the FFCAR.
Mr. Clausen had no comment.
Laura M. Gregory, a partner with Sloane & Walsh LLP in Boston who is not involved in the litigation, said numerous other lawsuits have been filed under the FFCRA, and more are expected.
“This is an area where we’re going to see a lot of activity going forward” as the pandemic continues, she said.