Labor & Employment Law Daily GC sues employer for firing her after she refused to violate COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders
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Thursday, April 30, 2020

GC sues employer for firing her after she refused to violate COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders

By Pamela Wolf, J.D.

The company’s manager/president allegedly refused to let the GC work from home to avoid violating the shelter-in-place orders and possibly facing criminal prosecution.

The former general counsel of real estate investment and development firm Tekin & Associates has sued the company for purportedly firing her for refusing to violate mandatory shelter-in-place orders in her Texas county to travel to her worksite in another county. The GC allegedly told the company’s sole manager and president that she was able to perform all her duties while working at home, but that apparently didn’t matter. She is asking for $1 million-plus for her wrongful discharge against public policy.

The GC is an “at will” employee who was hired by the company in December 2019, according to the complaint. She lived in Dallas County, one of the hardest hit counties in Texas during the COVID-19 pandemic, with a mid-April estimate of 1,723 cases and 32 deaths, the complaint alleges.

Shelter-in-place orders issued. In an effort to slow the spread of the deadly pandemic and to protect the safety and welfare of Dallas County, the county judge in charge of the county’s COVID-19 response issued orders requiring everyone in Dallas County, including all Dallas County residents, to “shelter in place,” according to the plaintiff.

The GC purportedly advised her employer’s manager/president that under the shelter-in-place orders, she was not permitted to leave her Dallas County home to travel to work in Collin County, where the workplace was located. She also told him that she did not want to violate the law or lose her job, and that she was “capable of fully performing all of her duties from her home in Dallas County,” according to the complaint.

Demand to violate the order. The manager/president, however, allegedly told the GC that “working from home did not work for him and it would not be allowed or considered.” He purportedly demanded that in order for the GC to keep her job, she had to travel from her Dallas County home to perform her job at Defendant’s Collin County office.

The plaintiff alleges that Tekin & Associates is not an essential business as defined by the shelter-in-place orders, “but rather is real estate development and investment company, performs no services for essential businesses,” and that the GC was “a worker who could perform all of her duties from home and not violate the orders as required by [her employer].”

The manger/president repeatedly refused to let the GC work from home and “was belligerent and annoyed” that the GC “even communicated her concerns and requested to work from home,” according to the complaint.

Termination against public policy. On March 27, 2020, the GC alleges she sent the manager/president an email stating that she would be subject to criminal prosecution, including imprisonment, because the company was requiring her to violate the law by compelling her to come to work. Within minutes of her sending the email, the manager terminated the GC’s employment, the complaint states.

The GC contends that the sole reason behind her termination is that “she refused to comply with her employer’s directive to leave her Dallas County home to go to work in Collin County, conduct that was unlawful in that it violated Dallas County order and subjected her to criminal penalties.”

The plaintiff is seeking judgment in excess of the jurisdictional limits of the court—meaning more than $1,000,000—for lost past and future wages, including bonuses, and benefits, mental anguish, compensatory damages, punitive damages, reasonable attorneys’ fees, reasonable paralegal fees, costs of court, and pre- and post-judgment interest.

The GC filed her lawsuit, Reggio v. Tekin & Associates, LLC, in Dallas County Court, Texas; the case is No. CC-20-01 986-B.

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