COVID-19 Remote Work Denial Not Discrimination, Court Told

By Chris Villani
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Law360 (June 26, 2020, 3:00 PM EDT) -- A Massachusetts engineering firm fought back against a claim that it fired an employee because he asked to work remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic, saying Friday that the worker simply abandoned his job after the request was denied and he offered no proof of discrimination.

CGIT Systems Inc., a welding and specialty electrical equipment company based in Medway, Massachusetts, acknowledged in its motion to dismiss that it denied Yiyu Lin's request to work from home when the health crisis broke out in March.

But the company said Lin has not shown in his complaint filed earlier this month that he was discriminated against in any way.

"Plaintiff was denied a request to work from home, and subsequently terminated for job abandonment when he refused to return to the office," the dismissal motion says. "In response, plaintiff has essentially thrown multiple claims based on differing theories of discrimination 'against the wall' in the hopes that one sticks."

Lin, 55, claims to have high blood pressure and says he also lives with his mother, who is elderly and in the age group most likely to suffer death or other serious health consequences if diagnosed with the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

CGIT said high blood pressure is the only "handicap" Lin claims to have, and the state's Supreme Judicial Court has said that not all physical impairments qualify as a "handicap" under the state's anti-discrimination laws. In order to qualify as a handicap, Lin would have to show that his condition significantly limits his life, CGIT said, which he has not done.

"Plaintiff does not describe any limitations to his life as a result of his high blood pressure, much less a substantial limitation to a major life function," the motion says. "His high blood pressure in no way restricts his ability to do his job — to the contrary, plaintiff alleges that he was always able to perform his job and his reviews were always positive."

Lin is also not in a position to bring a claim based on his mother's vulnerability to COVID-19, the company said.

"While the Supreme Judicial Court recognized associational discrimination as a valid cause of action in 2013, it did not do so where a plaintiff is seeking a reasonable accommodation due to his relation's alleged disability," CGIT's motion says. "Therefore, plaintiff's claim does not exist as a matter of law."

CGIT also said Lin cannot point to any facts that show age discrimination or discrimination based on the fact that he is a Chinese American. The company said it wanted him to keep working, but that he decided not to show up after being allowed to take a floating holiday and a sick day.

Counsel for CGIT did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday and Lin's attorney declined to comment.

In his complaint, Lin said he showed the company he could work from home just fine. He claimed CGIT downplayed the impact of the pandemic, with a human resources manager at one point allegedly telling employees in an email that the virus is "not a superbug" and that a vaccine would be developed and "life will go on."

A day after his March 31 firing, Lin said five company employees were out sick and on April 2, the wife of an employee tested positive for COVID-19. The next day, just three days after he was let go, Lin said CGIT told all employees to work from home until at least April 7.

Lin is represented by Mark D. Szal of Szal Law Group LLC.

CGIT Systems is represented by John E. DeWick of Arrowood LLP.

The case is Lin v. CGIT Systems Inc., case number 1:20-cv-11051, in U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts.

--Editing by Stephen Berg.

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

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Case Information

Case Title

Lin v. CGIT Systems, Inc.


Case Number

1:20-cv-11051

Court

Massachusetts

Nature of Suit

Civil Rights: Jobs

Judge

Marianne B. Bowler

Date Filed

June 03, 2020

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