Man Alleges Firing Was Tied to Complaints About Workplace Safety

LOS ANGELES (CNS) - A former employee of a Wilmington manufacturer of Mexican food is suing his ex-employer, alleging he was wrongfully fired in 2020 for complaining that the company was not doing enough to protect workers from the coronavirus.

Richard Quinones' Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit against Juanita's Foods alleges wrongful termination and violations of the state Labor Code. He seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages in the suit filed Thursday.

A Juanita's representative could not be immediately reached for comment.

Quinones was hired as Juanita's director of logistics and distribution at the company on George De La Torre Avenue in September 2019 and his job was to restructure the warehouse staff, the suit states. He and his staff broke revenue records in April and May 2020 despite the pandemic and his work resulted in a 21% cost savings for the company, according to the suit.

In April 2020, Quinones met with Juanita's vice president of operations to talk about the plaintiff's concerns that PPE and sanitization of work and eating areas needed improvement because of the coronavirus, the suit states. Some COVID-19 safety measures were eventually taken and workers were provided with masks, gloves and hand sanitizers, the suit states.

On June 21, one of the warehouse workers tested positive for the coronavirus and Quinones reported the information to management, the suit states. The plaintiff believes the positive test was not reported to health authorities or to the company's own employees and that nothing was done to determine whether work conditions contributed to the positive result.

The next day, the warehouse workers confronted Quinones about the positive test for their fellow employee and asked if anything was being done to protect them, the suit states. The plaintiff asked management whether a strategy was being put in place, but he was told “issues of concern would only be communicated on a need-to-know basis'' and that concerned employees should call human resources, the suit states.

By June 25, an action plan was still not in effect and the infected employee said he believed he got sick at the company, the suit states. Meanwhile, Quinones tested negative for the virus and his wife came up positive, according to the suit.

The plant was shut down for several days in July because key employees were out sick and a report surfaced that multiple employees had tested positive, but management denied the allegation, the suit states.

Quinones was fired Aug. 26 and was told his position was eliminated, but another employee was moved to his former position and her job was filled by a new hire, the suit states.

Photo: Getty Images

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