Woman Ties Firing to COVID Exposure, Complaints About `English Only' Sign

Youre fired with exclamation written on blackboard, businessman holding sign

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VAN NUYS (CNS) - A former food service worker for a Northridge senior citizen living facility is suing the center's parent company, alleging she was wrongfully fired in 2020 for complaining about a sign directing workers to speak only in English and for reporting her potential on-the-job exposure to the coronavirus.

Maria Del Angel's Van Nuys Superior Court lawsuit against Brookdale Senior Living Communities Inc. alleges wrongful termination, employment discrimination, retaliation, breach of employment contract, negligent infliction of emotional distress and failure to pay wages due. She seeks at least $250,000 in compensatory damages, plus punitive damages.

A Brookdale representative did not immediately reply to a request for comment on the suit brought Friday.

Del Angel was hired in May 2020 at the Gardens at Northridge as a resident food server and in July of that year she complained to her supervisor about a sign in her work area stating that Brookdale's policy required workers to speak only English on the job, the suit states.

However, many employees conversed in the Filipino dialect of Tagalog at work and it was tolerated by Brookdale management at the Devonshire Street facility, the suit states.

"Del Angel complained about the sign, the policy it set forth and the selective enforcement of that policy by Brookdale management," the suit states.

Several days after her complaint, Del Angel's boss assigned her to clean out a freezer, even though that work was not part of her job duties and she had never been assigned to do it before, had no training for it and was given no equipment, the suit states.

The constant exposure to the interior freezer temperature and the contrasting hot summer air outside caused Del Angel to get sick, the suit states. She also was criticized by her boss for the job she did, according to the suit.

"The situation was very distressing for Ms. Del Angel," the suit states. "She wanted to continue working for Brookdale and to stay in a stable position, but she did not want to tolerate discriminatory or punitive treatment from Brookdale's management," the suit states.

Del Angel needed a steady income and jobs in the service sector were scarce at that time due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the suit states.

Del Angel nonetheless felt compelled to resign and gave notice that she would be leaving in late August 2020, but in the middle of the month she found out she had been exposed to someone who had the coronavirus, the suit states. She reported her exposure to her supervisor, who told her she was being fired and that she should leave immediately, the suit states.

Del Angel's boss told the plaintiff she was not eligible to quarantine with pay because she had given notice of quitting and that she could pick up her last check at a later date, the suit states.

Del Angel believes there was no Brookdale policy that permits management to fire someone immediately for reporting a COVID-19 exposure, regardless of when the person may be planning to quit, the suit states.

"In fact, Brookdale terminated Ms. Del Angel's employment because she reported her potential COVID-19 exposure and followed company policy," the suit alleges. "She was also fired in retaliation for her earlier complaints about the `English Only' sign and Brookdale's discriminatory practice of selective enforcement."

Del Angel searched for an equivalent position but was not able to find one, eventually settling for a job at a scrap metal business that some of her relatives operate, the suit states.

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