VAN NUYS (CNS) - A former food service worker for a Northridge senior citizen living facility has added a harassment claim to her lawsuit against the center's parent company, in which she alleges 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. previously alleged wrongful termination, employment discrimination, retaliation, breach of employment contract, negligent infliction of emotional distress and failure to pay wages due.
Del Angel filed an amended complaint May 16 adding the harassment claim. She still seeks at least $250,000 in compensatory damages, plus punitive damages.
In March, Los Angeles and state officials announced a $3.25 million settlement to resolve a lawsuit against Brookdale, which is the country's largest senior living facility operator. The company was accused of ignoring laws regarding discharging patients and reporting false information to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, allegations the firm vehemently denied.
According to Del Angel's amended suit, she 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.
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 revised suit states.
"Del Angel complained about the sign, the policy it set forth and the selective enforcement of that policy by Brookdale management," the amended 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 updated 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.
According to the amended complaint, Del Angel's supervisor harassed the plaintiff when she allegedly "communicated the hostile and illegal message to Ms. Del Angel that due to her race or national origin, she would be subject to (the boss') whims and could be subjected to immediate, arbitrary, unjustified and punitive treatment whenever it suited (the supervisor)."
Del Angel also knew from her boss' conduct that, based on the plaintiff's race, her opportunity to perform the job and job duties for which she had been hired, and her continued employment with Brookdale, depended on her pleasing her supervisor's whims at all times, the amended complaint 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 revised 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, according to the amended suit, which further states that the plaintiff reported her exposure to her supervisor, who told her she was being fired and that she should leave immediately.
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 updated 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 amended suit states.
"In fact, Brookdale terminated Ms. Del Angel's employment because she reported her potential COVID-19 exposure and followed company policy," according to the revised suit, which also contends the plaintiff was also fired in retaliation for her earlier complaints about the "English Only" sign and Brookdale's alleged 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.