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Ex-Onni Atty Says Work-From-Home Request Led To Firing

By Michele Gorman · 2020-08-13 18:28:44 -0400

When a former associate general counsel at Onni Group requested to continue working from home during the pandemic because of his wife's disability, the company discriminated against him and ultimately fired him, according to a lawsuit recently filed in California Superior Court.

In his complaint dated Aug. 5, Joe Rose said Onni wrongfully terminated him because he had requested to continue working from home as the company was reopening, citing his wife's Type 1 diabetes and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. He alleges wrongful termination and employment discrimination under California's Department Fair Employment and Housing Act and the California Family Rights Act.

"As the world is dealing with an unprecedented pandemic, Onni recklessly and maliciously placed the health and safety of their employees, as well as their employees' families at risk," the complaint says. "This is not tolerated under any standard of human decency but also not under California law."

After closing its downtown Los Angeles office amid the COVID-19 pandemic earlier this year, the developer sought to reopen, the complaint says.

Rose alleges in the complaint that he was wrongfully terminated after he told the company it would need to follow state and federal guidelines to reopen, and that not doing so could be unsafe for employees and illegal.

The court document did not specify a timeline for the office closure and reopening.

According to the complaint, Rose requested to continue working from home "in order to keep his wife safe from possible exposure to COVID-19." Among his claims, Rose also said Onni treated him differently and fired him because of his "association with a disabled person."

Apriano Meola, named in the court document as an Onni manager, said Rose wasn't completely performing his duties from a remote environment and "did not legitimately need to work from home but in essence wanted a paid vacation," the complaint says.

Rose claims he was labeled as "not a team player," according to the complaint.

In May 2019, Rose began working at Onni as associate general counsel, according to his LinkedIn profile.

In the complaint, he alleges the company said it wouldn't accommodate his needs, and he was terminated around June. He said he has suffered emotional and mental distress, as well as embarrassment.

"The company denies the allegations and intends to vigorously defend itself," Grant Alexander, a partner at Allen Matkins Leck Gamble Mallory & Natsis LLP who represents Onni, said in a statement to Law360.

Counsel for Rose did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.

Rose is represented by Bruce Kokozian of Kokozian Law Firm APC.

Onni is represented by Grant Alexander and Melissa Bell of Allen Matkins Leck Gamble Mallory & Natsis LLP.

The case is Joe Rose v. Onni Properties LLC and Apriano Meola, case number 20STCV29505, in the Superior Court of the State of California, County of Los Angeles, Central District.

--Editing by Alyssa Miller.

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