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Ocean Ride, a division of the Ocean County Transportation Services, terminated a bus driver who sought to take some time off to care for his terminally ill son, according to a newly filed Whistleblower / Conscientious Employee Protection Act (Cepa) lawsuit.

Frank Martucci, was a bus driver for Ocean Ride for approximately 4 years.

According to his lawsuit, filed in New Jersey Superior Court in Ocean County by Toms River Attorney Christopher R. Shea Esq. of R.C. Shea & Associates, P.C.:

On or about February of 2021, Martucci was informed that his son had been diagnosed with small cell cancer. On or about September of 2021, he was notified that his son's condition had become terminal, and that he would be placed on end of life / hospice care. 

As a result, on or about the second week of September 2021, he approached his supervisor, Jim Hand, the director of operations for Ocean Ride, to request a leave of absence so that he could care for his dying son.

Pursuant to the New Jersey Family Leave Act, Martucci was entitled to 12 weeks of job protected leave to care for a family member with a serious illness, injury, or health condition.

In response, Mr. Hand instructed him that he was not entitled to leave and, instead, requested him to provide a letter of resignation.

Following this conversation, Martucci provided Hand with a written letter requesting a leave of absence. After reviewing the letter, Hand reiterated that Martucci was not going to get a leave of absence and further instructed him that if he can’t work then he has to quit. Hand added that he would only allow him to reapply after his son passes if he now provided a letter of resignation. 

As a result of the above illegal circumstances, Ocean Ride procured Martucci's termination.

Accordingly, Martucci has suffered and sustained economic losses in the form of lost wages since the termination of his employment, as well as severe emotional distress.

Pursuant to the NJFLA, Plaintiff was entitled to protected “Family Leave” to provide care to his dying son which was made necessary by “the serious health condition of a family member.” N.J.S.A. 34:11B-3(i). This required Defendant to grant Plaintiff up to twelve (12) weeks job-protected unpaid leave to care for his son. It further required Defendant to maintain insurance coverage for Plaintiff to the same extent as if Plaintiff had not been on leave. Upon Plaintiff's return from leave, Defendant was required to reinstate Plaintiff to his prior position or a comparable position The NJFLA absolutely forbids an employer from interfering with or effectuating the termination of an eligible employee who requests protected leave and otherwise forbids an employer to reduce or eliminate the employee's health benefits.

Plaintiff should have been placed on protected leave and the right to exercise his rights under the statute without interference and/or retaliation by Defendants and its management.

Instead of following these well-established principles, by and through their course of conduct set forth above, Defendants violated the NJFLA by interfering with, restraining, and/or denying the exercise of Plaintiffs rights and otherwise retaliating against Plaintiff for requesting his rights to Family Leave which ultimately resulted in the termination of Plaintiff’s employ. 

The suit demands judgment against all defendants, jointly, severally and in the alternative, for compensatory damages, punitive damages, attorneys’ fees, other specific performance and injunctive relief, and for any and all relief permitted and cognizable under NJFLA; together with the interests and costs of suit.

The case is pending before Judge Robert E. Brenner.

The defendants have 35 days to formulate an Answer to the Complaint.

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