Nursing Assistant Says She Was Fired Over Virus Quarantine

By Alexis Shanes
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Law360 (November 2, 2020, 8:54 PM EST) -- A nursing assistant was illegally fired by a Pittsburgh nursing home because she missed work to self-isolate after she was exposed to COVID-19, according to a lawsuit filed in Pennsylvania state court.

Za'Tayah Ballard, who worked at the Highland Park Care Center, alleges that an administrator at the skilled nursing facility fired her after she asked to quarantine at home for two weeks to avoid transmitting the virus to the facility's geriatric residents.

"By discharging plaintiff from her employment because she stayed home and self isolated after being exposed to COVID-19, defendant violated a clear mandate of Pennsylvania and United States public policy," she says in her complaint filed Friday.

The nursing home hired Ballard as a full-time certified nursing assistant April 1, roughly a month after Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf declared a state of emergency due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to the complaint.

On May 16, Ballard learned she had "prolonged close contact" while she wasn't wearing personal protective equipment with a person who had the virus, according to the complaint.

She "immediately" called the nursing home and told the supervisor on duty that she had been exposed and wouldn't be able to report to work that day, the suit says. The supervisor removed her from the schedule so she could self-isolate for 14 days, which Ballard says was in accordance with federal and state recommendations, according to the complaint.

But two days later, the facility's nursing director denied her request to quarantine and fired her for missing work, according to the complaint.

"Ballard knew that the patients she came into direct contact with every day were highly vulnerable to COVID-19 and did not want to harm them," she says in her complaint, while adding that she "would have not been terminated from her employment" had she not asked to quarantine.

Ballard alleges the nursing home violated state and federal policy by firing her for self isolating — and did so in "wanton, outrageous and in reckless disregard" for her rights.

She seeks front and back pay and compensatory and punitive damages.

An attorney for Ballard and a spokesperson for the nursing home did not immediately respond Monday to requests for comment.

A September report from Littler Mendelson PC found that wrongful termination and retaliation were the most common claims in the nearly 600 pandemic-related employment suits filed between the start of the outbreak and August.

Workers in California, Michigan and Georgia in September filed unrelated lawsuits claiming they were fired for quarantining after contracting COVID-19. And a former worker at a different Pittsburgh nursing home alleged in an August suit that he was fired for raising concerns about the facility's handling of the virus to an outside consultant.

Ballard is represented by Rachel McElroy of McElroy Law Firm LLC.

Counsel information for Highland Park Care Center was not immediately available Monday.

The case is Ballard v. Highland Park Care Center LLC, case No. GD-20-011291, in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania.

--Editing by Abbie Sarfo.

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

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