A jury sided with a business in the case of a South Florida man who sued his former employer, claiming he never got paid sick leave while at home quarantining with COVID-19.
According to the complaint, Timothy O'Bryan had been working as a mold and fire technician with Joe Taylor Restoration Inc. since 2018. Then he got sick back on March 30, 2020.
He said he had symptoms of COVID-19, so the Delray-based company asked O'Bryan to stay home, quarantine and fill out two health forms.
"Obviously, we were all affected by the coronavirus and unfortunately some people tried to take advantage of that," said Joe Taylor, the owner of Joe Taylor Restoration Inc.
Taylor says there’s more to the story after one of his employees tried to sue him.
“It’s difficult to sometimes take a stance against someone in connection with the pandemic, but at the end of the day, it became easier when I started digging in," said attorney Daniel Levine, who represents Taylor.
A few days later, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act became a law, which would allow certain employers to use government funds to provide up to two weeks of paid sick leave to their staff.
In court documents, O’Bryan said he was not paid while he was out and was eventually fired on April 20.
O’Bryan sued Joe Taylor Restoration Inc. seeking damages under the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act. However, Taylor says there were many inconsistencies with his health claims.
“We were trying to work with him to actually pay him, believe it or not, and he was never able to meet the criteria in any way shape or form. His story was very suspicious from day one and it was just a red flag," Taylor said.
In the first jury trial in Fort Lauderdale federal court since COVID-19, a jury sided with the defense, saying O’Bryan did not prove that he was entitled to emergency sick pay leave.
Levine says they were pleased with the final verdict.
“It would have been very easy for Joe to say, you know what, he’s not claiming enough to make it worth my while to pay an attorney and defend it and go all the way to trial, but he didn’t want to do that because he knew he was right and that this guy wasn’t owed a dime," Levine said.
Chad E. Levy, the attorney representing O’Bryan, said in a statement:
“We were very surprised at the jury's decision, especially considering we presented clear evidence that he complained of symptoms and was out seeking a medical appointment and a covid test. Additionally, Tim informed the company he tested positive as well for COVID. But for whatever reason, the jury felt he was not entitled to the benefits, and while we are disappointed in that decision, that is their choice."