A former security guard who sued her ex-employer, alleging she was wrongfully fired in 2020 for criticizing the firm for allegedly not enforcing coronavirus safety measures in areas her firm controlled that had been implemented by a client, can proceed with her case in court rather than before an arbitrator, a judge has ruled.

On Friday, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Bruce Iwasaki denied a motion by an attorney for Gardena-based American Guard Services Inc. to compel arbitration of plaintiff Sheena Christian’s lawsuit, which also alleges whistleblower retaliation. The judge noted that Christian filed a demand for arbitration last August, but that the proceedings did not go forward because AGS did not pay its share of the fees.

The company maintained the arbitration demand was not presented to its legal department for review by an attorney, according to the judge, who further said the firm maintained that a delay of a few months in beginning arbitration was not prejudicial to Christian.

“Because defendant is in material breach of the arbitration agreement … for failure to timely pay the arbitration fees, plaintiff may withdraw her claim from arbitration and proceed in this court,” the judge wrote while also awarding Christian $4,875 in sanctions.

Christian sued Dec. 23, stating in her court papers that she was hired in April 2019 and was stationed at the DHL Express Gateway location near Los Angeles International Airport, where she was under AGS supervision. She oversaw inbound and outbound delivery trucks, persons and personnel on the premises, according to the suit.

DHL administered COVID-19 safety measures in March 2020, but AGS failed to enforce the rules in areas under its control, including the rooms where Christian and other security guards gathered to take their breaks, the suit alleges.

Christian expressed her concerns about the allegedly unsafe work environment to her supervisor repeatedly, specifically asking that her supervisors enforce the DHL mask wearing and social distancing rules, especially while indoors in close quarters with other employees in areas under AGS control, the suit states.

However, AGS superiors dismissed Christian’s concerns and instead warned her not to tell anyone about the allegedly risky conditions because they did not want to lose their business at the DHL Express Gateway location, the suit states.

COVID-19 increasingly spread among AGS employees, according to the suit, which further states that Christian began to directly ask her colleagues to social distance.

“Several employees responded argumentatively and told plaintiff that (she) did not have any authority to ask this of them,” the suit states.

Christian told her superiors in September 2020 that if they did not enforce COVID-19 safety measures, she would call a health department or other authority to report the safety issue, which brought a warning from AGS that if she did so she would be fired, the suit states.

Christian also sent a text message to a supervisor with images of the allegedly unsafe work environment to her complaints, hoping AGS would take her concerns seriously, but instead she was fired about a week later, the suit states.

Christian’s firing has caused her to lose income and suffer emotional distress in addition to having to spend money to hire a lawyer, according to the suit.

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