After losing his job when he contracted COVID-19, a Lake Station employee is suing for wrongful termination.
The COVID-19 pandemic has tipped the world as we know it upside down. Over the course of a year, students have been forced into virtual learning environments and businesses have shuttered, some never to reopen again. Countless employees have been laid off or let go altogether. One such employee is Cole Scott of Merrillville. A former Lake Station employee, Scott recently decided to sue the city after he was allegedly fired after he contracted COVID-19.
According to his lawsuit, Scott claims the city “violated his civil rights under the Family Leave Act and his collective bargaining rights as a member of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Local 3379.” Additionally, he is suing the union because it failed to support him.
Scott began working for the city in August 2018 as a laborer. Then, last November, he went home because he felt ill. His attorney, Robin Remley, filed the suit on Scott’s behalf in U.S. District Court in Hammond and argues in the complaint that “Scott couldn’t work because he had no energy, was losing his taste and suffered muscle pain, and by Nov. 14 he learned he had tested positive for COVID.” She noted that about 700,000 Hoosiers have fallen ill from COVID-19 and more than 13,000 have died.
According to court documents, Scott “remained incapacitated and unable to return to work for a number of weeks in late 2020 and earlier this year.” During that time, Scott kept the city and his union updated on his health by sending notes from his “medical provider about his medical condition.” Instead of being understanding, though, the city took a different route and began harassing Scott by “sending city employees to his home multiple times to spy on him … attempting to make him feel like he was doing something wrong by seeking benefits to which he was entitled.” To make matters worse, the city refused to approve his claim for unemployment benefits.
As a result, the complaint alleges the city violated Scott’s rights under the “Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program when the city denied his claim for unemployment benefits.” Instead of approving the benefits, the city terminated his employment back in February, three months after he first fell ill. According to his union contract, though, he was entitled to receive “up to one year of medical or personal leave.”
This recent complaint is a reminder that the pandemic is having far-reaching consequences throughout society. It will be interesting to see how businesses continue to react to employees who test positive in the future, and how many might start requiring the vaccine.