Eastern Airlines Accused Of Firing Exec Over COVID-19 Leave

By Danielle Nichole Smith
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Law360 (April 16, 2020, 8:26 PM EDT) -- A former director at Eastern Airlines hit the company with a suit in Pennsylvania federal court Thursday, claiming she was fired for trying to take time off under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, a law Congress recently passed to address the COVID-19 outbreak.

Stephanie Jones says in her complaint that she raised concerns with several managers March 20 about child care issues stemming from her 11-year-old son's inability to attend school because of coronavirus-related closures. According to the complaint, Jones is a single mother.

Jones had asked for two hours a day of flex time, and later brought up her potential leave eligibility under the FFCRA in a telemeeting with the company's chief human resources official March 23, the complaint says. The next day, she formally requested to take leave under the law, according to the complaint.

But the official "responded in a fashion that showed open hostility" to her request for time off, Jones alleged. No one from the company reached out to her over the following two days, and Jones was terminated via phone March 27, the complaint says.

According to Jones, "conflict" with others at the company was alluded to in her termination, and at no point did management address her leave request. Jones also contends that other employees reached out to ask her how to perform certain facets of her job between the time she asked for leave and her firing.

"Defendant Eastern Airlines unlawfully retaliated and otherwise discriminated against plaintiff because of conduct protected by the FFCRA," the complaint said. "Defendant Eastern Airlines' conduct was not in good faith and defendant Eastern Airlines did not have reasonable grounds for believing it did not violate the FFCRA."

Congress passed the FFCRA in March, requiring employers with 500 or fewer employees to provide workers up to two weeks off at full pay — subject to certain caps — if they're directly affected by the virus, and at partial pay to care for affected family members.

The statute also gives workers up to 10 weeks off at partial pay to care for children whose schools or child care centers have closed due to the virus, after two unpaid weeks. According to Jones' complaint, Eastern Airlines has less than 500 workers and is subject to the law.

Jones' suit asks that she be reinstated to her position, where she made $125,000 annually plus benefits, and recover any lost wages and benefits, among other things.

"Stephanie Jones sought leave for childcare reasons," Edward C. Sweeney, an attorney for Jones, told Law360 in a statement Thursday. "The Families First Coronavirus Response Act brings protections to mothers who need leave for childcare reasons." 

Representatives for Eastern Airlines did not respond to requests for comment late Thursday.

Jones is represented by Edward C. Sweeney of Wusinich & Sweeney LLC.

Counsel information for Eastern Airlines was not yet available Thursday.

The case is Jones v. Eastern Airlines LLC et al., case number 2:20-cv-01927, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

--Editing by Abbie Sarfo.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

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Case Information

Case Title

JONES v. EASTERN AIRLINES, LLC et al


Case Number

2:20-cv-01927

Court

Pennsylvania Eastern

Nature of Suit

Civil Rights: Employment

Judge

R. BARCLAY SURRICK

Date Filed

April 16, 2020

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