Robert O’Hara Quoted in “Meatpackers Test Boundaries of Anonymity in Covid-19 Lawsuits”

Bloomberg Law Daily Labor Report

Robert J. O’Hara, Member of the Firm in the Employment, Labor & Workforce Management practice, in the firm’s New York office, was quoted in the Bloomberg Law Daily Labor Report, in “Meatpackers Test Boundaries of Anonymity in Covid-19 Lawsuits,” by Fatima Hussein and Genevieve Douglas.

Following is an excerpt:

The meat-packing industry, a hotspot for the coronavirus and a flashpoint for the worker versus public safety argument, could soon explore new legal ground over when it’s appropriate to allow plaintiffs to sue anonymously.

Also known in the #MeToo context, anonymous legal claims can protect those who want to sue but need privacy. And that same shield could be used by meat and poultry employees, many of whom fear working at plants where more than 4,900 have been infected with Covid-19, according to the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics. …

J. Doe Claims Rising

In April, 19 states reported Covid-19 cases among U.S. workers across 115 meat and poultry processing facilities. Among approximately 130,000 workers at these facilities, 20 deaths have occurred as of May 1, according to CDC data.

About 30 Jane and John Doe lawsuits across industries have been filed, as of May 17, with allegations tied to the pandemic, according to a search of Bloomberg Law’s court dockets database. They include employment, contracts, insurance, and other claims.

For instance, a Dallas restaurant worker brought a Covid-19 workplace safety related claim May 7 seeking an injunction against her employer … after the company refused to allow Doe to wear a mask while working. An attorney for the company declined to comment.

And on May 27, a fired John Doe with HIV/AIDS sued his employer … claiming violations of the Family and Medical Leave Act and other coronavirus response laws. The plaintiff says once he notified his employer he was in a high-risk group for Covid-19, he was dismissed.

Anonymity during the Covid-19 pandemic will be particularly difficult to litigate because “occupational disease is much more difficult to correlate to a workplace,” Robert J. O’Hara, an employment attorney at Epstein Becker & Green P.C. in New York, told Bloomberg Law.

And performing discovery in a large meatpacking plant can be even more cumbersome, he said. “The challenge in a large factory is—where does that person work, can they speak with authority, or is there an isolated issue in the immediate space they’re working in.”