Complaints Say Meat Company Employees Were Fired for Caring for Children During Pandemic

Two complaints filed in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on Monday alleged that John F. Martin & Sons LLC, a company that produces specialty deli meats and cheeses, should have allowed its employees to take time off to care for children during the COVID-19 pandemic under the Family and Medical Leave Act. 

One complaint was filed by Matthew Shepardson, who worked for the defendant as a Head Operations Trainer, and the other complaint by Warren Rivera-Nigaglioni who worked for the defendant in shipping, receiving, and inventory. Each plaintiff, beginning in March 2020, was not able to continue their regular work schedules because they had to care for children when schools and other childcare options closed. 

Shepardson was reportedly fired in early May through an email because of his “limited availability,” although he had proposed hours where he could work on weekends and ways that he could work remotely during the week. 

Rivera, after taking some time on unpaid leave, was fired in a letter, which explained that he had been absent from the workplace. The plaintiff explained in the complaint that he had been told by management that he should stay home if his kids did not have someone caring for them. 

The complaints each purported that because the defendant has less than 500 employees it is required to abide by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), which includes the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act and the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Act. Each of these laws were passed as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic and related school and workplace shutdowns. 

The filings alleged that Shepardson and Rivera each tried but were unable to find other childcare options for their children. Reportedly, each employee attempted to work with John F. Martin & Sons to obtain time off or adjust their schedule, so that they could care for their children.  

Allegedly, the defendant sent an email on April 22, 2020, explaining that because the company had more than 500 employees the Families First Coronavirus Response Act did not apply to the entire corporation. The plaintiffs, however, purported that John F. Martin & Sons “deceptively and falsely tabulated their employees to exceed 500 employees,” and should have been required to follow the requirements in the act and allow them to care for their children. 

Each plaintiff filed claims of retaliation, violating the Family Medical Leave Act and the FFCRA, as well as interference with the same laws. They asked the court to award them back pay, front pay, and punitive damages. 

Both plaintiffs are represented by J.P. Ward & Associates LLC