Two former workers at a Valencia coronavirus testing lab hailed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in 2020 as a facility to speed up the testing process and create more jobs are suing their ex-employer, alleging they lost their jobs for complaining about staff experience and racial discrimination.
Martin Avalos and Yesenia Castillo brought the Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit on Tuesday against PerkinElmer Inc., alleging wrongful termination, racial discrimination, retaliation, defamation and various state Labor Code violations.
Avalos and Castillo seek unspecified compensatory and punitive damages. A PerkinElmer representative did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
Avalos was hired in October 2020 and Castillo a month later, both as specimen processors, the suit states. Both are Latinos.
Shortly after starting work at the facility, Avalos and Castillo realized that management “deliberately engaged in a pattern and practice of disregarding regulatory standards to meet its daily testing quotas and to inappropriately increase profits,” the suit states.
Management hired laboratory staff members without the appropriate qualifications to handle specimen samples and perform diagnostic testing services because they lacked licenses, the required education and the mandatory amount of prior laboratory experience to handle specimen samples and perform diagnostic testing service, the suit alleges.
The plaintiffs also determined that management reported a high number of inconclusive tests and failed to adequately report such outcomes, according to the suit.
Avalos also protested that samples were lost and that employees napped at work and used their phones during work hours, delaying processing times and the release of important diagnostic COVID-19 information, the suit states.
After complaining about the alleged improper practices, Avalos was demoted and was once falsely accused by Yip of losing specimen samples, the suit states.
Avalos and Castillo also found that management — including their boss, lab supervisor Gerico Yip — provided Filipino employees like Yip with preferential treatment and benefits, the suit states. For example, management promised to allow all employees, including the plaintiffs, to rotate into other positions to allow each employee to gain experience and develop skills in performing a variety of tasks, the suit states.
However, management eventually only allowed the Filipino employees to rotate into other positions, the suit states. Avalos, Castillo and other non-Filipino employees mostly had to work in a less desirable job with hot temperatures due to the ovens, centrifuges and other heat-generating equipment around them, the suit states.
Yip and the Filipino employees also were allowed to take longer meal and rest breaks despite the ongoing pandemic and the need to process specimens promptly, the suit alleges.
During the period of last December and January of this year, management cut the work hours of Avalos and Castillo and eventually fired both, the suit states. Both allege they lost their jobs because of their race and/or their complaints about alleged illegal and unsafe business practices in the workplace.
Newsom was present to cut the ribbon at the PerkinElmer laboratory in October 2020.
“Earlier in this pandemic, our ability to test Californians for COVID-19 and get results quickly was hampered by supply chain challenges and overwhelmed laboratories — so we built our own supply chain and our own lab with PerkinElmer,” Newsom said at the time. “This new laboratory will allow California to ensure its testing capacity is timely, equitable and cost-effective — just when Californians need it most.”