The family of a Riverside County Flood Control & Water Conservation District employee who died from complications connected to COVID-19 is suing the county for alleged workplace negligence that led to his catching the virus, it was announced Monday.
“Employers like the county are legally obligated to do everything reasonably necessary to protect the life, safety and health of their employees,” attorney James DeSimone said. “The county, by deliberately refusing to institute common sense safety protocols, caused the death of a good man, husband, father and employee.”
The civil action, filed in Riverside County Superior Court, takes aim at the Flood Control & Water Conservation District’s policies throughout 2020, which the plaintiffs allege were lax and ultimately put Michael Haywood — and by extension, his wife, Elizabeth Haywood — in harm’s way.
The county Executive Office told City News Service a response to the lawsuit would be forthcoming, possibly late Monday afternoon.
Haywood worked as an equipment services supervisor in the district’s Operations & Maintenance Division, according to county records.
According to the plaintiffs, in the spring of 2020, he asked to be assigned to at-home duties because of personal concerns that he would be in contact with people infected with COVID-19. Haywood was a diabetic and contended with respiratory challenges after two battles with cancer, making him particularly vulnerable in the event of coronavirus exposure, DeSimone said.
As the year progressed, Haywood made “repeated accommodation requests,” telling his bosses that coworkers were not social distancing or taking other precautions, and that there was no screening of flood control workers to determine whether someone might be showing up sick on the job, but his requests were denied, according to the lawsuit.
“When Haywood told Brian Tieg, flood district’s senior safety coordinator, the department was not following COVID-19 safety measures, `Tieg told Mr. Haywood that he too was trying to implement precautions in the office but that upper management was preventing him from doing so,”’ the suit states.
In mid-December 2020, the district was informed that unnamed employees had been diagnosed with COVID, exposing Haywood and others who worked with him to the virus, according to DeSimone. He said that by then, however, Haywood was already ill and had called out sick for three consecutive days. On Christmas, he was hospitalized, and just over a month later, he died, according to the suit.
Elizabeth Haywood, who suffers an autoimmune disorder, also contracted the virus about that time but recovered, DeSimone said.
The plaintiffs are suing for alleged wrongful death and violations of the California Fair Employment & Housing Act, specifically in relation to “disability discrimination,” according to the suit.
The size of damage awards being sought were not specified.
No hearing dates have been set in Superior Court.