LOS ANGELES – A former driver for a chemical company is suing his ex-employer, alleging he was forced to resign this spring after management ignored his pleas for protective uniforms and social distancing and called the coronavirus a “hoax.”
Shawn Zamora‘s Los Angeles County Superior Court lawsuit against TerraChem Inc. alleges wrongful termination, retaliation, disability discrimination, failure to reasonably accommodate, failure to engage in the interactive process and failure to take all reasonable steps to prevent discrimination.
Zamora seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages in the suit filed Tuesday. A TerraChem representative could not be immediately reached.
TerraChem manufactures and distributes chemicals to service oil and gas companies throughout California. Zamora worked as a hazmat driver and technician beginning in June 2018 and his duties included conducting inventory and making deliveries of chemicals to oil wells, according to the suit.
Zamora was provided with a small truck for travel to and from work and home, the suit states. During his time with TerraChem, Zamora often witnessed the company “intentionally and unlawfully transporting intentionally mislabeled hazardous materials, flagrantly and unlawfully neglecting to conform to state Department of Transportation regulations and recklessly and unlawfully storing flammable materials in (TerraChem’s) warehouse without proper safety methods,” the suit alleges.
Zamora’s complaints about the allegedly unsafe practices were ignored by TerraChem, according to the suit, which also alleges management called the COVID-19 a “hoax” and refused to provide any protective gear to its employees or mandate social distancing.
Management also disregarded Zamora’s vocal concerns about the company’s alleged minimizing of the coronavirus, the suit states.
Zamora injured his right shoulder on duty last December while loading a five-gallon bucket into his truck, according to his suit, which also alleges the company refused to accommodate him and said, “We gotta get the job done, why not just use your left hand to drive?”
He additionally had pre-existing medical conditions, all of which made him physically disabled apart from his workplace injury, the suit states. Zamora is diabetic and a congenital defect caused him to have a rare form of asthma and a collapsed lung, the suit states.
He never asked for any accommodations for these additional conditions, but in March he became “justifiably concerned that he was at particularly high risk of infection due to his pre-existing medical conditions and disabilities” because of the coronavirus, the suit states.
He asked if he could go on medical leave to protect himself from COVID- 19 inflection, but management told him “he should not worry because COVID- 19 is a hoax and there is no real danger,” the suit states.
After Zamora again asked about providing PPE and practicing social distancing, the company replied that he could wear a mask “if he could find one,” the suit states.
“Feeling he had no other choice, (Zamora) went out and purchased his own PPE,” the suit states.
He alleges the truck provided him was taken away in retaliation for his complaints and request for injury accommodations. He resigned May 25 to take another job that paid him less, feeling that TerraChem “would only continue to discriminate and retaliate against him until he could no longer take it any more or until (TerraChem) would find some fake reason to fire him,” the suit states.