In a lawsuit filed in Dallas County on Thursday, a North Texas woman says she lost her job for trying to comply with shelter-in-place orders.
Amy Reggio, the plaintiff in the lawsuit, says her boss fired her March 27. Reggio worked as the general counsel for Frisco-based real estate investment and development firm Tekin & Associates. Reggio says she did not believe it was legal to leave her home in Dallas County to go to work in Collin County.
“It just became crystal clear that by me physically going to work, I would be in violation of that law. When I notified the owner of the company, he terminated me,” Reggio said.
The lawsuit alleges Reggio offered to work from home, but the company’s president, Mark Tekin declined.
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According to the complaint:
“On Friday, March 27, 2020, Plaintiff sent Mark Tekin an email stating she would be subject to criminal prosecution, including imprisonment, because Defendant was requiring her to violate the law by compelling her to come into work at Defendant’s office. The email stated, in pertinent part: My hope in writing you this email is that you will stop trying to require me (and other Dallas County residents and residents of other Counties with the same orders) under the threat of termination to come to the office in violation of various government orders/laws that will subject me to criminal penalties.”
“Within minutes after the email where she said, 'This violates the law, I don’t want to violate the law, there are criminal repercussions,' the email was sent by Mr. Tekin saying, 'You’re fired,'" said Reggio’s attorney, Joshua Iacuone of the Rogge Dunn Group. “And that’s against the law."
Dallas County’s stay-at-home order went into effect on March 23. In a press conference announcing the order, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, spelled out what the order would mean to Dallas County residents who commute to counties without similar stay at home orders in place.
“It doesn't matter if your job is in Fort Worth or whether your job is in downtown Dallas or Plano. If you live here, you're under this order,” Jenkins said on March 22.
There are exemptions for essential activities, like grocery shopping and essential businesses.
Iacuone insists Reggio’s former employer did not fall under the exemption.
“They invest money into projects. In no way, shape or form are they an essential business under any of the shelter-in-place rules,” Iacuone said.
Questions about worker rights in the pandemic are increasing, according to Steve Kardell of Kardell Law Group.
“That’s one of the things we’ve seen as a result of COVID: our practice has just skyrocketed,” Kardell said.
Kardell, who specializes in labor and employment law, is not involved in Reggio’s case, but pointed out many employees are facing similar questions. And the answers are more complicated for those deemed essential in the pandemic.
“People are worried about safe working conditions, worried about exposure, worried about protective clothing, which are sometimes in short supply. It’s one of those things where it creates even more uncertainty,” Kardell said. “I think after COVID is over, it’s going to open up a lot more employment law issues - including family medical leave. It’s my opinion this is going to open up more awareness of the problems and also legislation to cure those problems.”
NBC 5 emailed and called Mark Tekin, president of Tekin & Associates, on Thursday. The company has not yet responded to NBC 5’s requests for additional information.
NBC 5 reached out to the U.S. Department of Labor about Reggio’s case.
According to a spokesperson, “While we would need more information to make a determination if the Families First Coronavirus Response Act applies, the Department encourages employees and employers alike to call us confidentially at 1-866-4US-WAGE if they have questions or need assistance.“
Read the full suit below.