Updated Lawsuit: Built Bar Fired Worker Who Raised COVID-19 Concerns
AMERICAN FORK, Utah – An amended lawsuit accuses a Utah County company of failing to protect its employees against COVID-19, and then firing a worker who raised health safety concerns and also tested positive for the disease.
The lawsuit alleges that Built Bar, a protein bar maker in American Fork, “took no precautions to sanitize their facilities after receiving knowledge an employee had tested positive for COVID-19.”
The lawsuit goes on to say that employees “were issued threats of termination if they discussed anything related to a COVID-19 infection” at the facility.
Built Bar denies allegations and says the company was proactive about communicating with and protecting employees from the beginning of the pandemic.
“We have followed every CDC guideline and recommendation and even exceeded it,” said Built Bar CEO Nick Greer, “and that’s what’s important to note here, we’ve always made sure the safety of our people was always first, always first.”
Greer confirmed that there was an outbreak at the facility with 23 employees contracting COVID-19. That’s about 6% of the staff. The facility voluntarily shut down in April for a week of cleaning and modifications and hasn’t had a case since, Greer said.
“We are an open business, an open book, and we welcome any agency or anyone to come in and actually audit our production,” Greer said. “We will always have the safety of our people, our customers and all who are involved in our company at the very top of our mind, and the very top of our list. It’s the important thing for us.”
The lawsuit was filed by former employee Juana Victoria Flores.
According to the lawsuit, Flores sent an email to Built Bar’s human resources department on April 7 saying that co-workers were sick and that it would be good to get professional cleaning or fumigation.
“I believe the lack of ventilation keeps the place infected, we make food and we don’t want more people getting sick,” she wrote in the email, ending with: “I am really concerned.”
The lawsuit claims the company never responded to the email. But Built Bar’s CEO said they did address Flores’ concerns.
“We actually have record of a call that was made to her from one of our managers to reach out to her,” Greer said. “We actually were implementing many of the changes at the time, and it was right then thereafter when we made a lot of these changes, and we communicated to our team openly.”
About a week after that email, on April 13, Flores tested positive for COVID-19. Her employment was terminated on or about May 7, according to the lawsuit
Attorneys for Flores claim in the lawsuit that her termination of employment was a wrongful discharge and that it occurred after she contracted COVID-19 and was unable to return to work, and after she sought legal counsel.
“[Flores’] termination served no legitimate interest to regulate the workplace environment, promote productivity, or any other lawful business objective,” the lawsuit said.
During his initial interview with KSL Greer wouldn’t comment on Flores’ termination and the amended complaint alleging that she was fired in retaliation.
“The truth will come out as it pertains to that of exactly what happened,” he said.
However, in a follow-up interview, Greer clarified that Flores was part of a reduction of workforce of 39 employees, and that the company didn’t know she had retained legal counsel until the lawsuit was made public on Friday.
“There was never any notice that she hired an attorney,” Greer said.
Flores’ daughter, who has Down syndrome, is also listed as a plaintiff in the lawsuit along with a roommate of the mother and daughter. The lawsuit says all three tested positive for COVID-19 and that the daughter was hospitalized in critical condition but has since been released.
“It appears [Flores’ daughter] will require oxygen to assist in her breathing for the duration of her life,” the lawsuit reads.
“Our thoughts and our prayers are with Victoria and especially her daughter at this time—I think that’s what important,” Greer said. “I hope we can all pray for her daughter to make sure she gets healthy and strong.”
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