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Alcona County senior group sued

News File Photo Alcona County Commission on Aging Executive Director Lenny Avery works at his desk at the agency’s office in Lincoln in this October 2020 News file photo.

HARRISVILLE — A former Alcona County Commission on Aging employee has sued the agency, saying she was unjustly terminated for following the agency’s COVID-19 policies.

Matt Clark, an attorney with the Detroit-based law firm Gregory, Moore, Brooks, and Clark, filed the case in the U.S. District Court-Eastern Michigan District on behalf of Alcona County resident Rayna Gill.

Clark said the case could establish important precedent regarding workers’ protection during the pandemic. The lawsuit alleges Gill was unjustly terminated for following her employer’s directions to stay home to avoid the risk of getting her elderly clients sick.

“We can confirm that there is a pressing legal matter from a disgruntled employee about wrongful termination, but we look forward to addressing these issues in court,” said Lenny Avery, executive director of the Alcona County Commission on Aging.

Clark is seeking a jury trial for his client, who wants to receive “all damages to which she is entitled,” including compensation for lost wages, reasonable attorney fees, and other compensation.

The lawsuit claims the agency violated the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act of 2020, which entitles employees to two weeks of sick leave for COVID-19-related conditions. It states that Gill was eligible for paid sick leave under the law.

Gill had worked as a direct care worker with the Alcona County Commission on Aging, where she provided in-person non-medical services to seniors for more than a year before she was fired effective July 20.

When Gill’s husband woke on July 12 with a fever, headache, stomach ache, and nausea, Gill feared he was infected with COVID-19 and that she had been exposed, according to the lawsuit.

Gill alleges she notified her supervisor, Brittnie Baldwin, via text message of her husband’s illness and inquired what actions to take. A text message from Gill to Baldwin indicated she was concerned about getting her elderly clients sick.

The lawsuit states Baldwin responded via text that she should stay home and call her clients, which was consistent with the agency’s COVID-19 return to action policy. Baldwin also advised Gill to stay home the next two days, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit states that, on July 15, Baldwin texted Gill asking for an update and Gill responded she had become sick. Baldwin then instructed Gill to notify her of her health condition in the mornings.

The next day, Gill texted Baldwin she would not come in to work because she was sick. The lawsuit states Baldwin responded that she was being taken off the schedule and then later informed Gill via text she was being terminated because of her absences.

Calls to the Alcona County Commission on Aging’s attorneys, Thomas McGraw and Stacy Belisle, of the Troy-based firm McGraw Morris, were not immediately returned.

However, in a court filing, the agency denied that officials violated the law when Gill was terminated.

A written response to Gill’s attorney from the Alcona County Commission on Aging states that Gill’s employment was self-terminated because she failed to report to work for two consecutive days.

The agency’s employee handbook requires employees who will be absent from work to notify their supervisor the day before, or no later than 30 minutes before the beginning of his or her work schedule. The letter states Gill was advised of the policy.

Clark said in an email to The News that the case is still in the early stages of litigation and no hearing has been scheduled.

He said the lawsuit is important because Gill was unjustly terminated for following her employer’s directions, and “no worker should be fired for that.”

He said the lawsuit will also test the strength of new federal and state laws enacted to protect workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The courts are still in the early process of interpreting these laws, and cases like this set an important precedent whether the laws will translate into real protections for workers,” he said in the email. “I believe we will succeed but we are planning for a fight.”

Crystal Nelson can be reached at 989-358-5687 or cnelson@thealpenanews.com.

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