Three more lawsuits have been filed against a Vernon bakery and cafe alleging an indifferent attitude by management during the height of the coronavirus pandemic caused employees to contract the disease, with two of the new cases blaming plant conditions for two deaths.
Ana Eveline Perez Pineda filed the original suit on March 25 in Los Angeles Superior Court against Vie de France Yamazaki Inc., alleging disability discrimination, failure to prevent discrimination, provide reasonable accommodation and to engage in a good-faith interactive process and a violation of the California Family Rights Act.
Pineda’s husband, Jose Osvalldo Perez, and son also are plaintiffs in her suit.
A Vie de France Yamazaki representative could not be reached for comment Friday on the suits.
On Tuesday, company employee Alex Hernandez and his wife, Gracie Hernandez, filed a wrongful death suit against the business, alleging he contracted the coronavirus at work and later infected his stepdaughter, 42-year-old Valerie Esquivel. She died in April 2020 while she and Alex Hernandez were in adjoining hospital rooms suffering from the virus, the Hernandez suit states.
“Valerie died as a result of COVID-19 ravaging through her body,” the Hernandez suit states. “The day Mr. Hernandez was discharged is the day Valerie died.”
Meanwhile, Alex Hernandez, who hoped to work a few more years before retiring, instead had to retire in July 2020, the suit states. Like Pineda and her family, Alex Hernandez suffers from long COVID, the Hernandez suit states.
Long COVID is characterized by health consequences persisting or appearing after the typical convalescence period of COVID-19 and it can affect nearly every organ.
Alex Hernandez was a packer at the plant for more than 32 years and was 67 years old when the state’s March 2020 statewide coronavirus orders became effective, his suit states.
“Mr. Hernandez was a dedicated worker, so he continued working, relying on and trusting that (a) letter posted saying that there were no COVID-19 cases at the plant was true,” the Hernandez suit states.
The third suit was filed Wednesday by Maria Martha Alvarado, the widow of the late Vie de France Yamazaki mechanic Pascual Alvarado Hernandez, and her two children, also alleging wrongful death.
“Pascual Alvarado Hernandez and his wife and children had disabilities that made them both uniquely vulnerable to death and serious illness from COVID-19,” the Alvarado suit states.
Pascual Hernandez contracted COVID-19 from a co-worker shortly after attending a meeting in small indoor cafeteria packed with 20 to 50 people, some visibly coughing with COVID-19 symptoms, the Alvarado suit states. The 21-year company veteran died in April 2020 at age 61 and his relatives continue to suffer from long COVID, according to their lawsuit.
The plaintiff in the third new suit, Natalie Guillen, states she was hired by the company in October 2018 and worked in human resources and payroll. Guillen, 33 years old in March 2020, had pre-existing health conditions and wanted to avoid contracting the coronavirus, according to her suit, which was filed Wednesday.
“Ms. Guillen was particularly concerned that employees were coming into the office coughing and visibly sick with a respiratory illness and they were not being screened or sent home,” her suit states.
Management denied Guillen’s request to work from home, telling her it would be unfair to other employees who had to come to the plant daily, and she was forced to attend crowded company meetings in which she felt like a “sardine,” the suit states.
Guillen acquired COVID-19 in April 2020 and was off work for three weeks, but when she returned conditions at the plant were still unsafe, and by July of that year the plaintiff was forced to resign rather than work in such an environment, her suit states.
Guillen, who suffers from long COVID, also alleges she was sexually harassed by the male plant supervisor, Eduardo Diaz, a co-defendant in her lawsuit. But when she and other women complained about Diaz’s alleged misconduct, management said the women were at fault because of the way they dressed, according to Guillen’s suit, which further states that Diaz was eventually fired in 2020 after sending another female employee an obscene photo.
In Pineda’s suit, she states she was hired in 2019. In March 2020, she was 51 years old and concerned for her health because she was obese, had allergies and suffered from atherosclerosis, putting her at higher risk of death or severe illness from COVID-19, her suit states.
Pineda requested to work from home, but the plant manager and lawsuit co-defendant, Raymond Rodriguez, told her, “We have to keep production going,” according to her suit.
Pineda eventually became ill, “feeling like her head was going to explode and having chills,” her suit states.
Pineda was diagnosed with the coronavirus and quarantined at home, where within two weeks her husband and son also became infected, according to her suit, which further states that all three have long COVID symptoms.