A Lakewood business has landed up with a federal lawsuit after firing one of its employees during a COVID surge.

The employee says that he was fired after informing his supervisors that he needed to care for his child who was required to quarantine.

Renaissance Lakewood, LLC is located in the Lakewood Industrial Park.

Dylan John Espinoza is a former employee of the company. From November 2013, Espinoza worked at Renaissance as a packager/material handler.


During a severe resurgence of the COVID-19 pandemic in November 2020, Espinoza was notified by his child’s school that his child was in close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19.

Espinoza immediately notified his supervisor, Andrew Gales that his daughter was required to quarantine due to close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 and that he needed to care for his child and/or quarantine himself, and that he was therefore unable to work. Gales advised that his request for leave was approved.

However, Nicola Melucci, another supervisor, told him “you are not required to quarantine. I’ll see you tomorrow, thank you.”

Espinoza contacted the New Jersey COVID-19 hotline and spoke to a representative about his situation, including that his supervisor advised that he did not need to quarantine. The representative advised him that was to quarantine and he was allowed leave to care for his child.

Espinoza advised Melucci that the New Jersey COVID-19 hotline representative advised him that he did need to quarantine and was permitted leave to care for his child.

Espinoza further stated to Melucci that, after speaking with the representative from the COVID-19 hotline, he was uncomfortable returning to work because he feared spreading COVID-19.

Melucci responded, "okay, get tested and provide us with the results."

Espinoza searched locations for himself and his child to be tested for COVID-19; however, due to the surge in COVID-19 cases at the time, he was unable to secure a test until the following week.

After getting tested, Espinoza informed Melucci that he received his COVID-19 test results which came back negative and inquired whether he should report to work the following day. 

Melucci responded that a negative test does not automatically clear him to return to work and indicated that Renaissance would reach out regarding his return. 

Surprisingly, the following day, which was December 3, 2020, Brenda Vesey, Vice President of Human Resources, sent Espinoza a letter terminating his employment with Renaissance.

Despite knowing that he needed to quarantine and/or care for his child who was required to quarantine, the company terminated his employment contending that there were three instances of no call, no show for his scheduled shifts.

River Edge Attorney Justin M. Day has filed a lawsuit against the company, arguing that Company employees were aware of Espinoza's need to quarantine and care for his child who was required to quarantine, and that during the relevant time period, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”) was in effect.

Espinoza's request for leave was protected under the New Jersey Family Leave Act (“FLA”) and FFCRA. Company employees failed to inform Espinoza of his rights under the FFCRA. They failed to provide him with job protected leave in violation of the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act (“EFMLEA”), and they failed to properly pay Plaintiff in violation of the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act (“EPSLA”), the suit claims.

Espinoza is a member of a protected class as an individual who advanced his rights under the FLA and FFCRA. He was subjected to adverse employment actions up to and including termination as a result of engaging in protected activity. He was further terminated in violation of public policy as established by the Courts in Pierce v. Ortho Pharmaceuticals as Plaintiff exercised his rights under FFCRA and reasonably believed that returning to work would be in violation of the quarantine laws, rules, and/or regulations in effect at the time, the suit additionally contends.

As a result of the unlawful conduct outlined above, Plaintiff has suffered both economic and non-economic harm, according to the Complaint.

The 5 count Complaint includes; a) Violation of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act Division C - Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act (Interference and Retaliation); b) Violation of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act Division E - Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act; c) FLA Interference; d) FLA Retaliation; e) Wrongful Discharge In Violation of a Clear Mandate of Public Policy.

As a direct and proximate result of Defendants’ wrongful acts and omissions, Plaintiff suffered and continues to suffer economic damage, severe mental anguish and emotional distress, including, but not limited to, stress, anxiety, depression, embarrassment, loss of self-esteem, loss of appetite, loss of sleep, emotional pain and suffering, and other stress related ailments.

The suit demands judgment for compensatory damages; non-compensatory damages; punitive damages; attorneys’ fees; costs; interest; and such other and further relief as the Court deems fair and equitable.

Renaissance Lakewood, LLC is represented by Tinton Falls Attorney Joseph DeBlasio Esq.

The Complaint was originally filed in New Jersey Superior Court in Ocean County. However, as the case alleges violations of federal law, the case was transferred to the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey.

Magistrate Judge Douglas E. Arpert is presiding over the case.

Judge Arpert has scheduled a Telephone Status Conference for August 2, 2023 to ensure that discovery is going smoothly. Fact Discovery is to remain open through September 15, 2023.

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