Law360 (November 30, 2020, 7:13 PM EST) -- A former dockworker for freight firm Estes Express sued the company in Illinois federal court Monday, alleging he was fired for refusing to stay at work after he learned that two colleagues who had recently been on-site were infected with the novel coronavirus.
Jamaal Watts alleges that the company "exhibited reckless disregard" for his safety in late April when it mandated that he continue working at a Joliet, Illinois, facility after he found out that two colleagues who had been working on-site that day had been infected with COVID-19.
Watts went home early anyway because of his fears of exposure, according to his complaint and his lawyer, after which Estes allegedly fired him when he reported to work the next day.
"He told his bosses that he was uncomfortable being there and that he wanted to leave," Watts' lawyer, Scott Skaletsky, told Law360. "They told him, 'You will be fired if you leave after working only eight hours.'"
Watts says in his complaint that it is Estes' duty to "refrain from intentional wrongful conduct that placed Watts in a position of imminent danger from contracting coronavirus."
Estes did not respond to a request for comment, but the company's website says it's taking steps to protect its workers from COVID-19, including enhanced cleaning and sanitization protocols at its facilities and "a detailed, step-by-step protocol in place for every Estes location … should any employee display or report symptoms, or test positive for COVID-19."
"We remain vigilant in our efforts to keep our terminals clean and our employees healthy," the company says on its site.
However, Watts alleges in his Monday complaint that Estes failed to properly clean the area that his infected colleagues had occupied, and his supervisors ignored his concerns about worker safety.
Watts is represented by Scott Skaletsky of Benjamin & Shapiro Law.
Counsel information for Estes was not available.
The case is Watts v. Estes Express, case number 1:20-cv-07046, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.
--Editing by Abbie Sarfo.
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