WESTFIELD, NJ — A former Westfield public works employee claims that the town refused to provide him with personal protective equipment he had requested because his heart condition put him at greater risk of death should he contract coronavirus.
The lawsuit filed by Christopher Bohnyak in Superior Court in Elizabeth Sept. 4 claims that the town discriminated against him because he called attention to workplace safety issues in 2017. The suit also alleges that the town falsely accused him of being the source of a blogger’s article about alleged time theft by DPW employees.
Bohnyak’s attorney Thomas Andrykovitz told TAPinto Westfield that the town has taken a series of adverse actions against his client following a 2017 incident in which Bohnyak pointed out the danger of being ordered prune trees near power lines.
According to the lawsuit, this has included not providing him with an N95 mask and Tyvek suit for use when cleaning bathrooms — something Bohnyak, 46, requested because his heart condition, Atrial Fibrillation, puts him at greater risk for death if contracting COVID-19.
“They didn’t even bother to interact with Chris or engage in a process that would determine what kind of accommodation would work, and in a COVID-19 environment, this is shocking,” said Andrykovitz, who is representing Bohnyak along with Westfield-based attorney Joshua McMahon. “The reality is Chris can perform any of the functions of his job. He just needs the right PPE.”
The town’s public information officer, Kim Forde, declined to comment. “As a policy, the Town does not comment on pending litigation,” Forde said.
The 27-page lawsuit claims that DPW superintendent Greg O’Neil and other town employees “poisoned the workplace by routinely harassing plaintiff, making derogatory comments” targeting Bohnyak’s disability and allowing that activity to continue.
Efforts to reach O’Neil for this story were not successful.
Atrial fibrillation happens when the heart beats in an irregular way. It is the most common type of heart arrhythmia and contributes to about 158,000 deaths annually in the United States, according to the CDC.
The lawsuit claims that the town retaliated against Bohnyak first by removing him from the forestry division.
“On Dec. 1, 2017, plaintiff complained to the town that plaintiff and his co-workers were directed to cut trees near power lines,” the lawsuit states. “Thereafter, defendants retaliated against plaintiff by removing him from the Forestry Division and cutting his overtime.”
The lawsuit further claims that the town in 2019 falsely accused Bohnyak of being the source of blogger Greg Kasko’s story alleging employee time theft at the DPW.
“Defendants falsely and baselessly accused plaintiff, in an investigative report commissioned by the town, of ‘leaking’ information related to public corruption to a local political activist and blogger named Greg Kasko,” the suit claims. “This baseless accession was memorialized in an official report commissioned by the defendants.”
The dispute over cleaning the bathrooms led to the town suspending Bohnyak for one day on June 1 of this year, then on his return to work June 2 ordering him to clean the bathrooms without the protective equipment, according to the suit.
This happened again after a three-day suspension, and on June 5, the town suspended him indefinitely, according to the complaint. A letter from the town, included as an exhibit to the lawsuit, states that if Bohnyak does not return to work by Sept. 4, he would be fired. The letter does not address Bohnyak’s request for an accommodation, and he did not return to work.
“The town refused to accommodate Chris,” Andrykovitz said. “It’s not an ‘OK let’s see if we could handle your accommodation.’ There was no investigation on their part. They just said ‘no’ and when Chris said ‘Well, I could die,’ their response was to send him right back into the environment that was in the whole source of the issue.”
Click here to read the complaint filed in the lawsuit.
Email Matt Kadosh at email@example.com | Twitter: @MattKadosh
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