NJ Woman Accuses Law Firm of Discriminatory Termination After Positive COVID-19 Test

A New Jersey woman has filed a disability discrimination lawsuit against her former employer, accusing them of retaliatory action following her positive COVID-19 test. Cynthia Wisenfelder claims that her former employer attempted to evade compensating her for the period when was quarantining, and later terminated her as punishment for having gotten sick with the highly contagious virus.

Mrs. Wisenfelder filed her lawsuit under New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination, claiming that she had been a valued employee since November 2018 but that her former employer had "discriminated and retaliated” against her for having contracted COVID-19, culminating in her termination. She says that when she told the firm’s founder and the office manager that her husband had tested positive for COVID-19 on November 9th, 2020 and that she would need to quarantine, she was both told to stay home and that she had no more paid time off available to her. In response she asserted her belief that she qualified for paid leave under FFCRA (Federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act). The next day she herself tested positive and notified her employee of her status. The firm’s founder again indicated that Mrs. Wisenfelder had no remaining paid time off and that she would not be paid during her quarantine unless she worked from home.

According to the complaint, Mrs. Wisenfelder responded to what she believed was “an egregious disregard” for her health and safety. She again asserted her eligibility for FFCRA coverage, but she believes that the firm’s founder hung up on her in response. The employee subsequently texted the firm’s founder, "I can't believe I'm dealing with a serious illness.. I'm positive with COVID-19 and all you care about is telling me you're not paying me for having to quarantine. Shame on you when there are things out there like FFCRA, that cost you nothing..,” and received a text in response that said, "Thank you. I accept your resignation." Wisenfelder immediately responded that she had not resigned and did not plan to resign. She continued working while quarantining at home despite being “extremely ill.” She later learned that the entire staff had been working remotely and that four other staff members had tested positive for COVID-19, but she received no response from the firm about whether she – like all other firm members - could continue working remotely once her quarantine period was complete.

Accordingly, she submitted proof of her negative COVID-19 test on November 29th and returned to work the following day, only to find herself subjected to “a hostile work environment” in which every other employee was working remotely, she felt “ostracized,” and found that the firm’s founder “actively avoided” her. She also discovered a one-week-old job application that was apparently a response to the firm recruiting for her position. One week later she was fired by the firm’s founder, purportedly because she didn’t want Mrs. Wisenfelder “to be unhappy with her job.” Though Mrs. Wisenfelder objected and cited both her happiness and the positive feedback the firm had received about her job performance, she was told that it was her last day.

In the state of New Jersey, employees with a disability are entitled to reasonable accommodations, including for COVID-19. If you believe that you have suffered a discriminatory adverse employment action as a result of disability or illness, the experienced employment attorneys at Schorr & Associates can help. Contact us today to set up a time for a consultation.

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