A former employee of a Mexican food manufacturer has agreed to arbitrate his claim that he was wrongfully fired in 2020 for complaining that the Wilmington company was not doing enough to protect workers from the coronavirus.

Richard Quinones sued Juanita’s Foods in Los Angeles Superior Court on Jan. 28, alleging wrongful termination and violations of the state Labor Code. He sought unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.

However, attorneys in the case filed court papers with Judge John P. Doyle stating that the parties had concurred in having the case decided in binding arbitration rather than a before a jury. Doyle dismissed the case, but maintained jurisdiction in case he was needed to enforce the terms.

Quinones was hired as Juanita’s director of logistics and distribution in September 2019 and his job was to restructure the staff at the company’s George De La Torre Avenue warehouse, according to his court papers, which say he and his staff broke revenue records in April and May 2020 despite the pandemic and his work resulted in a 21% cost savings for the company.

In April 2020, Quinones said he met with Juanita’s vice president of operations to talk about the plaintiff’s concerns that PPE and sanitization of work and eating areas needed improvement in light of the coronavirus. Some COVID-19 safety measures were eventually taken and workers were provided with masks, gloves and hand sanitizer, according to his court papers.

On June 21, 2020, one of the warehouse workers tested positive for the coronavirus and Quinones says he reported the information to management. The plaintiff believes the positive test was not reported to health authorities or to the company’s own employees and that nothing was done to determine whether work conditions contributed to the positive result, the suit says.

The next day, the warehouse workers confronted Quinones about the positive test for their fellow employee and asked if anything was being done to protect them, according to the suit. The plaintiff says he asked management whether a strategy was being put in place, but was told “issues of concern would only be communicated on a need-to-know basis” and that concerned employees should call human resources.

By last June 25, an action plan was still not in effect and the infected employee said he believed he got sick at the company, according to the suit. Meanwhile, Quinones says he tested negative for the virus and his wife came up positive.

The plant was shut down for several days last July because key employees were out sick and a report surfaced that multiple employees had tested positive, but management denied the allegation, according to the lawsuit.

Quinones was fired last Aug. 26 and was told his position was eliminated, but another employee was moved to his former position and her job was filled by a new hire, the suit says.

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