Working mom says she lost her job due to need to care for her sick children

Reporter: Sydney Persing Writer: Jack Lowenstein
Published: Updated:
Lauren Martinez. Credit: WINK News.

A working mother is fighting back after she says she was fired for taking care of her kids.

Lauren Martinez of Cape Coral filed a lawsuit against her former employer. She claims her company laid her off because she needed to miss work to care for her sick kids at the height of the pandemic.

Like so many mothers, Martinez prides herself on working while raising her children.

“You know, it’s your job; it’s your identity,” Martinez said. “It’s important to me, for myself. I like to work.”

Martinez is not working anymore.

Instead, she’s suing her former employer, Aspen Dental, and the owner of the practice where she used to work, R. Dustin Dixon DMD Holdings, PLLC.

The lawsuit claims those former employers fired Martinez unlawfully after her two kids, including her newborn baby, became sick, and her daughter’s school closed.

“I had texted my manager to ask if I could obviously work from home, which had been previously offered to me,” Martinez said. “So I don’t think I was asking anything unreasonable, and shortly after, I was terminated by text message also.”

We asked Martinez what the text message said, and her lawyer spoke to us about that.

“Unfortunately, Lauren received a text message that said if you can’t come in due to childcare, the position is vacated, meaning you no longer have a job here,” Benjamin Yormak, Martinez’s attorney.

Yormak argues Martinez’s employers violated Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act (EFMLEA), which extended workplace family accommodations during the coronavirus.

“That allowed working parents to take additional unpaid leave where childcare was the problem,” Yormak said.

We asked Martinez how it made her feel as a working mother.

“It felt really horrible and kind of did a number on my head,” Martinez said. “I lost a lot of sleep. I had to do a lot of reflection.”

Martinez shared her story with Time Magazine along with a number of other American mothers filing similar lawsuits. Martinez is at home now, pregnant once again, still no job and young kids to raise.

When we asked her about her children and how she will teach them about her experience during this time, Martinez said, “I want them to stand up for what’s right. I want them to use their voice … You just continue to move forward and do what’s right.”

Both Aspen Dental and R. Dustin Dixon DMD Holdings, PLLC in their response to the lawsuit denied any wrongdoing.

While R. Dustin Dixon DMD Holdings, PLLC refused to comment, Aspen Dental sent a statement saying, while it will not comment on active litigation, this practice provided extra protections to their employees that went beyond federal rules.

Aspen Dental statement

While this is an active litigation that cannot be commented on, the dentists who own and operate Aspen Dental branded practices are confident and proud of the way leave requests and pandemic-related operations were handled including the comprehensive COVID-19 specific benefits and programs offered to all employees: COVID-19 related leave, enhanced sick pay and company paid benefit continuation.

Assistant Office Managers are key non-clinical, but essential workers who are critical in-office staff responsible for helping triage patients and getting them the acute care they need.

Although employees like the ones from this practice are exempt from FFCRA, this practice provided extra protections to their employees that went beyond the federal rules. Since the start of the pandemic and before the FFCRA Act was made effective, the dentist owners of Aspen Dental practices, which are independently owned practices, made it a priority to add a number of COVID-19 specific benefits and programs for their employees, including:

  • COVID-19 Related Leave – Up to 30 days were offered to employees as a personal leave for COVID-19 related reasons including closure of daycares/schools and high risk health conditions
  • Enhanced Sick Pay – In 2020, employees of the independently owned practices were offered up to 14 days of additional sick pay, to be used for quarantining and testing related to the pandemic. If employees had multiple occurrences, they were re-eligible for this benefit
  • Company Paid Benefit Continuation – In 2020, Aspen Dental independently owned practices paid for 100% of the cost of benefits for any employee that was on unpaid leave – whether personal, medical, or furlough

Patients in pain with dental emergencies are no different than patients dealing with medical emergencies like a broken arm. They do not have the luxury of waiting out COVID-19, so Aspen-branded, independently owned dental practices worked tirelessly to keep their doors open and deliver quality care to patients with emergency, immediate care needs throughout the pandemic while keeping patients and staff safe.

During this pandemic, the nation has seen the heroic efforts of essential workers on the frontlines including the individuals who work at Aspen Dental branded practices.

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