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I was reasonable to ask to WFH in early days of COVID, says fired engineer

Infrastructure company retorts that it is an 'essential' business and cites lack of medical records

His former employer cannot "seriously" claim that he was unable to perform his job remotely when it fired him for refusing to work in person during the onset of COVID-19 in 2020, an engineer told a judge last week.

Yiyu Lin, a senior project engineer carrying out technical execution of projects in the design and manufacture of high voltage power transmission systems, worked at Massachusetts-based CGIT Systems Inc until 2020, the year it dismissed him for a reason it listed as "job abandonment" when he did not return to work on March 31 following its request that he come back to the office.

He is suing the company for disability discrimination and age discrimination.

Lin's filing last week asks the judge to find on his claims before the trial, and to hand down an order scheduling a trial "on damages only." He claims [PDF] in the Massachusetts district court filing that his job did not require his presence; that his request for "eight days leave of continued remote work was reasonable as a matter of law"; and that CGIT did not challenge his medical condition "at the time" including never seeking more information or documentation about it, and should therefore be stopped from arguing their former employee "was not disabled."

It also states that Lin, who is Chinese-American, according to CDC COVID-19 guidance is "disproportionately... more likely to end up in a hospital ICU or morgue."

Lin's initial 2020 complaint claimed racial discrimination, and his amended 2021 complaint [PDF] includes fresh claims his "Chinese accent" raised "issues" from both "internal employees of Defendant and external clients."

He also alleges in the amended filing that CGIT would send reps from religious organizations to the workplace in Medway, Massachusetts, "to speak with employees during the workday concerning their religious faith on a monthly basis." Lin also says CEO Tom Ferguson would send religious-themed emails (headed Reading Optional) including one stating: "Yes, though you walk through the valley of the shadow of death, you will not fear COVID-19, for God is with you."

According to the amended complaint, Lin said he'd participated in daily morning engineering status meetings through Webex/Skype; participated in internal project status meetings through Webex; participated in weekly project status meetings concerning ongoing projects; and executed and completed all tasks through the company's VPN. He also claims that three white employees, two of them engineers, had all requested WFH and been approved on March 26, 27 and 28.

He also claims that CGIT's "corporate office in Texas was preventing Medway from implementing safety measures."

According to Lin's 2021 complaint:

Plaintiff's health concerns were well founded. On April 1, 2020, five of Defendant's employees were out sick. The next day, it was reported that the wife of an employee tested positive for COVID-19. The following day, an employee of Defendant tested positive for COVID-19.

His former bosses at CGIT, meanwhile, claimed last week that if he had come to work on March 31, 2020, he would not have been fired. In its response to the motion for summary judgement, CGIT claims the case should never go to trial, claiming [PDF]: "There is no evidence that the decisionmakers ever raised any issue concerning Plaintiff's accent or ethnicity."

It also asserted that Lin didn't have evidence to support a finding that his historical diagnosis placed him at such high risk for severe illness from COVID-19, and claimed that "as a manufacturer of custom high voltage electrical equipment, CGIT was deemed an essential infrastructure business and did not have the luxury of simply shutting down all in-person operations in response to COVID-19, as many other businesses did."

It added that if he had "simply returned to work on March 31 following his two-week stint of working from home instead of unilaterally deciding that he was not going to return until he felt it was safe, he would not have lost his job."

Lin's original complaint [PDF], filed in 2020, says he asked to work from home because he was 55 "with a long-time high blood pressure medical problem, and that he lived with his mother, who was subjected to high risk of COVID-19."

The case continues. ®

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