Irvington employee sues town claiming he was denied coronavirus leave

IRVINGTON, NJ — Colin M. Page & Associates Law Firm is representing Anthony Brown, an East Orange resident, who claims he caught the novel coronavirus during the height of the COVID-19 outbreak and was shunned by his employer, Irvington Township, when he wanted paid leave. Now he intends to file suit because of it, though the township of Irvington denies the allegations.

According to documents sent to the Irvington Herald by Brown’s lawyer, Colin M. Page, during the winter of 2020, as the United States began to experience the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, Brown was employed by Irvington as a clerk-typist in the Tax Department. When Gov. Phil Murphy issued a stay-at-home order, Irvington designated employees in the Tax Department as essential workers, ordering Brown to continue reporting to work.

According to the documents, in or about mid-March, employees in the tax assessor’s office were exposed to COVID-19 and the disease began to spread among the department’s employees. As a result, on March 20, Irvington issued a notice to all employees that all staff who were experiencing COVID-19 symptoms should not report to work. Six days later, Brown began experiencing coronavirus symptoms, such as fatigue, fever and coughing.

According to Page’s documents, Brown sought treatment from his family physician. On April 17, Brown provided his job a note from his doctor certifying that he was receiving treatment for COVID-19, which excused him from work. Earlier that month, in response to the effects of the pandemic, U.S. Congress passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which included the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act, also known as EPSLA, which went into effect April 1.

According to the official United States government website, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act requires certain employers to provide employees with paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave for specified reasons related to COVID-19. The Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division administers and enforces the new law’s paid leave requirements. Generally, the act provides that employees of covered employers are eligible for two weeks of paid sick leave at full pay if they missed work because they were being treated for COVID-19 symptoms.

According to the documents from Page’s office, Irvington is a covered employer under the EPSLA. Brown sought two weeks of paid EPSLA medical leave from Irvington but was told he was not entitled to EPSLA medical leave because Irvington already provided paid sick leave and vacation. This is where Brown contacted counsel. Counsel then provided Brown citations to guidance from the U.S. Department of Labor stating the EPSLA leave was a new benefit that employees were entitled to receive, in addition to preexisting leave programs.

According to the documents, Brown provided this information to Irvington and again asked for his two weeks of paid EPSLA leave. Later, Brown received an email from Musa A. Malik, Irvington’s business administrator, claiming that Irvington did not need to provide paid EPSLA leave because it had more than 500 employees. Malik then told Brown that, if he believed he was entitled to leave, he should file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor. Brown obtained citations from counsel that the 500-employee exception applied only to private employers and not to public employers. Brown then provided that information to Malik on May 7 and again requested paid EPSLA leave. To date, Brown said he has not received any response from his May 7 email to Malik.

According to documents shared by Page, following Brown’s complaints regarding Irvington’s failure to provide him paid EPSLA leave, the township began making improper deductions from Brown’s pay. He requested explanations for the deductions from his pay and demanded that the deductions stop, but, according to Page’s documents, Irvington never responded to Brown.

According to the documents, Brown is now seeking judgment for his first claim: violation of EPSLA while seeking damages for unpaid sick leave, other compensatory damages, emotional distress damages, liquidated damages, punitive damages, statutory penalties, interest, attorneys’ fees, costs of suit and other relief.

According to the documents, for his second claim of wage theft, Brown seeks unpaid wages, liquidated damages, punitive damages, statutory penalties, interest, attorneys’ fees, costs of suit and other relief.

Both Page and Malik were contacted but declined to comment.

Irvington Township attorney Ramon Rivera denied the allegations.

“I looked into this matter, which involves an allegation by an employee that he was improperly denied paid leave under the E-FMLA provision of the CARES Act,” Rivera said in a statement to the Irvington Herald. E-FMLA stands for the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Act. “The township denies the allegations made in the complaint. Nonetheless, I cannot comment further as this matter involves personnel issues that must remain confidential.”