Law360 (May 19, 2020, 9:29 PM EDT) -- A New York attorney claims he was fired from his counsel position with a metals company after he contracted the novel coronavirus and asked to work remotely in Europe while he recovered, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday in Pittsburgh federal court.
Attorney Daniel Burbach Jr. alleges that Arconic Corp. violated the Family and Medical Leave Act when it fired him last month after he requested a few days off to move his family to Europe, where he planned to continue working remotely while recovering from COVID-19, according to the complaint.
Burbach worked for the now-defunct Arconic Inc. from September 2016 through March 31, 2020, as assistant general counsel, according to the complaint. On April 1, 2020, Burbach said Arconic Inc. split into two companies, Howmet Aerospace Inc. and Arconic Corp., and the attorney continued on with Arconic Corp., where he was offered a promotion to chief securities and governance counsel.
Burbach, who worked in Arconic's New York office, was slated to move to the company's Pittsburgh office once the effects of the coronavirus pandemic had subsided, according to the complaint. Before the split was official, however, Burbach said he did work for both Arconic Inc. and Arconic Corp.
As the spread of the coronavirus in early March led to stay-at-home orders and work-from-home decisions, Burbach's company followed suit and on March 13 the company told all employees to work remotely, according to the suit.
That same day, Burbach said he developed a mild sore throat and the next day became exhausted after working late into the night.
Wanting to protect the health of his spouse and children, Burbach said he decided to relocate his family to a relative's vacant apartment in Miami, where he thought they would be less likely to contract COVID-19. He told his supervisors at Arconic of his plans and said he would be off work for most of March 18 and March 19 while he drove his family to Florida.
His supervisors approved his request and said they were concerned with "safety first," according to the complaint.
During that time, Burbach continued to feel sick, and on March 20, he said his health began to "deteriorate rapidly." He developed a 102-degree fever, was "completely exhausted" and experienced difficulty breathing, according to the complaint.
Despite these symptoms, Burbach said he continued to do as much work as he could, but by that evening he sought treatment at a Miami hospital. There, he was diagnosed with COVID-19 and doctors placed him on bed rest, recommending that he avoid stress until his breathing issues subsided, he said.
Burbach notified his supervisors of the diagnosis that day and a few days later told them his condition had worsened to the point that he needed time away from work to recover, according to the complaint.
Burbach said his COVID-19 diagnosis is considered an impairment and disability under the Americans With Disabilities Act because of its serious effects on his ability to breathe.
By March 28, Burbach was able to return to working remotely, but he learned that he and his family wouldn't be able to stay at the Miami apartment, according to the complaint. So they made the decision to go to his spouse's family home in Slovenia for the remainder of the crisis, he said.
On March 31, Burbach's work agreed to give him short term leave to drive back to New York and then fly his family to Slovenia, but a few days later on April 3, his supervisor called him to say she had changed her mind, according to the complaint. She said the company couldn't accommodate him temporarily working in Europe, despite all employees working remotely due to the virus, he said.
Burbach said his job only required that he have a working computer, a printer and scanner, and a strong Wi-Fi connection.
When he told his supervisor that he believed the company's refusal to accommodate him was because he was impaired by COVID-19, during a difficult transition for the company, and that his impairment meant he couldn't devote the usual time to work, his supervisor said she was upset because she had to extra work while he was recovering from the illness, according to the complaint. She also told Burbach she was upset that he would suggest he was being disciplined because of his illness, he said.
Shortly thereafter, Burbach said he was fired and was told it was because the company couldn't accommodate his request to temporarily work remotely outside of the U.S.
"Burbach was fully capable of working remotely from anywhere in the world, and indeed had worked remotely in this manner on every vacation he had ever taken with defendants," the attorney said.
The suit alleges retaliation and interference with Burbach's FMLA rights, and seeks the return of his job and compensation of lost wages and benefits, as well as damages.
Representatives for the parties did not immediately respond to requests for comment Tuesday evening.
Burbach is represented by Samuel J. Cordes of Rothman Gordon PC.
Counsel information for Arconic was not immediately available.
The suit is Burbach v. Arconic Corp. et al., case number 2:20-cv-00723, in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania.
--Editing by Jay Jackson Jr.
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