Coronavirus Pandemic & Employment Law: Worker Blames Remote Work Request For Firing

A California-based food supplier company is being sued in Georgia federal court by a former employee who claims he was fired for requesting to work remotely during the pandemic. 

Alan Varnadoe, 66, filed the suit March 8.  He was a scheduler for one of the plants owned by Golden State Foods in Georgia who suffers from an inflammatory lung disease — and survived lung cancer— so thus is at increased risk of complications from the coronavirus, should he get infected.  He had worked for the company since 1994, promoting through multiple positions.

According to the complaint, Varnadoe was told that he and other employees could work remotely in March 2020— but were called back into the office about a month later. 

Due to his medical issues, the worker asked to continue working from home.  Days later, he was terminated. 

Though told that the firing was related to the pandemic, no other remote workers he had worked with were let go.  What’s more, the food supplier started hiring for a new location in Conyers, Georgia.  

According to the complaint: 

“After eliminating Varnadoe, GSF [Golden State Foods] has advertised the availability of, and hired for, multiple jobs at its Conyers facility including managerial positions at levels comparable to Varnadoe’s former position… Though Varnadoe requested the accommodation of continuing to work remotely, he told Warner [one of his supervisors] he would return to working in person if defendant deemed it necessary.”

The supervisor mentioned above, Dawn Warner, allegedly told Varnadoe that he could keep working from home until she could speak with human resources, according to the complaint.  However, come April 17, 2020, he was ultimately told he was being let go because of job reductions related to the pandemic, he said.

The former employee is now seeking unspecified damages related to lost compensation, lost benefits, emotional harm and attorneys fees. 

Golden State Foods bills itself as “one of the largest diversified suppliers to the foodservice industry” and is headquartered in Irvine.