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Town employee with health issue fired after asking for N95 mask to clean bathrooms, attorney says

A Westfield Department of Public Works employee with a heart condition claims in a lawsuit he was suspended without pay – and later fired – after asking for personal protective equipment to guard against the coronavirus while cleaning public bathrooms, his attorney says.

Christopher Bohnyak, 46, says he gave his supervisors medical notes about his atrial fibrillation, an irregular or rapid heart rate. He asked his supervisor for an N95 mask and a Tyvek suit while on duty, the lawsuit says, but was told the town did not have any and that they weren’t required to accommodate him.

“Mr. Bohnyak was eager to do his job,” said Joshua McMahon, who is representing Bohnyak with Thomas Andrykovitz.

But, McMahon added, Bohnyak was disappointed that his superiors “would not simply have a discussion with him to have a reasonable accommodation so he could safely and effectively do his job on behalf of his community.”

Bohnyak filed suit in state Superior Court on Friday against the town and Westfield Department of Public Works Director Greg O’Neil.

On Monday, his attorney said, he was fired.

A spokeswoman for Westfield said the town does not comment on pending litigation.

In 2017, Bohnyak told his superiors that his atrial fibrillation prevented him from jumping on and off garbage trucks. He provided a letter from his physician to O’Neil, the lawsuit says. He was hired by the town in 2015.

The suit says Bohnyak was written up for insubordination and reassigned to walking and collecting garbage instead. He was assigned to that job until May, the suit says.

In April, the suit says, Bohnyak’s physician ordered him to stay home if he was unable to socially distance and receive personal protective equipment. He used his own sick time to self-isolate during April too.

One of Bohnyak’s supervisors told him on May 28 that he was being reassigned to clean public bathrooms the following day. Bohnyak said he would do the work if he had protective equipment and reminded his supervisor of his heart condition, the suit says.

He cleaned the bathrooms for one day because they had been closed for two months, but said it was unsafe to do so after June 1 when they reopened to the public.

On June 1, when the restrooms were open to the public, Bohnyak again made his request for personal protective equipment, but was denied, the suit says. The Public Works director, O’Neil, then suspended Bohnyak for the rest of the day without pay for refusing to clean the bathrooms, the suit says.

Each day he returned to work, he was assigned to clean the bathrooms and was suspended again. He was eventually suspended indefinitely in June for refusing to clean the bathrooms, the suit said.

The town sent Bohnyak a letter on Aug. 26 stating that if he didn’t return to work by Sept. 4, he would be terminated. The letter made no mention of Bohnyak asking for accommodations to do the work.

“The suspension notice made clear that you could return to work when you agreed to perform the duties assigned, which was reiterated at the July 7, 2020 grievance meeting and in my July 20, 2020 denial of your grievance,” wrote the town’s business administrator, James Gildea.

“It has now been almost three months since you have refused to return to work to perform the duties of your position, during which period the Town has maintained your health benefits. The status quo cannot continue any further.”

Bohnyak returned to work on Sept. 4 with a letter from his cardiologist, noting that his heart condition put him at an increased risk for complications from the coronavirus. The letter was electronically signed and noted Bohnyak needed personal protective equipment, or PPE, if he was to clean bathrooms, the suit said.

He was again suspended without pay after his superiors assigned him to clean the bathrooms, the suit says. McMahon, one of Bohnyak’s attorneys, said he was fired days later.

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Rebecca Panico may be reached at [email protected]

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