A lawsuit brought by a former Tuff Shed employee, who says he was fired in 2020 for complaining about lax management concerns about the coronavirus, was dismissed by a judge Tuesday because both sides agreed to arbitrate the plaintiff’s claims.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge John Doyle said he would retain jurisdiction of Jose Fuentes’ case pending the outcome of the binding arbitration. He scheduled a post-arbitration status conference for Nov. 1.
Fuentes sued on March 26, alleging wrongful termination, discrimination, harassment, retaliation and various state Labor Code violations. Denver-based Tuff Shed serves customers throughout Southern California, including Los Angeles County.
Fuentes was hired in 2003 and worked as a supervisor for production, the suit states. He alleges his former boss, Carlos Cruz, ordered him to clock out and work through meal and rest breaks to meet production needs, and ignored him when he complained.
Fuentes became concerned in March 2020 that Tuff Shed was not taking steps needed to prevent the spread of COVID-19, so he asked Cruz to order employees to wear masks, practice social distancing and have their temperatures taken, plus direct that work areas be sanitized often, according to the suit.
Cruz and another supervisor also disregarded those requests, so the plaintiff, feeling significant stress, requested and received two weeks off, the suit states. Conditions had worsened by the time he returned, so he protested to Cruz again, allegedly prompting his boss to begin a “campaign of harassment” against him by significantly increasing his workload and establishing unreasonable building quotas.
At that point, many employees had quit and several had been exposed to COVID-19 and could not work, but Cruz insisted that the building quotas be met anyway, the suit alleges.
“Plaintiff and other employees continued to work under immense pressure and were unable to take any meal or rest breaks (in order) to attempt to meet Cruz’s quota demands,” according to Fuentes’ court papers.
Fuentes says he made several protests in July 2020 about the alleged lack of Tuff Shed safety protocols, especially in light of several employees testing positive for the coronavirus. One employee reported to work that had not been cleared to return and was COVID-19 positive, saying Cruz insisted he come back because they were falling behind in meeting their customer requests, the suit alleges.
When Fuentes complained that no one should return to work without the proper medical clearance, Cruz yelled at the plaintiff and blamed him for the company falling behind, the suit alleges.
The plaintiff alleges that Cruz at one point said that if people wanted to be safe, it was up to them.
An upset Fuentes dropped an order he was handling in Cruz’s wastebasket, took a short leave for abdominal pain and was notified by text message on July 30, 2020, that he was fired, according to his court papers.