TEXARKANA, Ark. — A wrongful termination lawsuit recently filed in Miller County circuit court alleges a laborer was fired from his job at a Texarkana lawn care company for asking to follow some COVID-19 guidelines.
Elmer Maxwell, a resident of Bowie County, Texas, filed suit against Dam Investments LLC, doing business as US Lawns of Texarkana, located in Texarkana, Arkansas. Maxwell is represented by Texarkana lawyer Jonathan Prazak and Little Rock lawyer Whitney Cossio. US Lawns did not respond to a request for comment Friday.
Maxwell alleges he was fired March 27 after asking that he and fellow employees be allowed to travel separately to job sites rather than shoulder to shoulder in a company vehicle, that they keep six feet apart at all times and that employees wear masks.
"As for grounds for plaintiff's termination, defendant's personnel labeled plaintiff as a malcontent trying to scare defendant's other employees. In truth, plaintiff was fired for his refusal to violate the requirements," of the Bowie County disaster declaration and its social distancing requirements.
The complaint alleges that US Lawns was actually in violation of the Bowie County order when it continued normal operations as a "non-essential business."
Maxwell alleges that prior to his termination, US Lawns forced him "to work alongside a fellow employee who was visibly ill and who suffered from such intense coughing spells that plaintiff thought his co-worker might vomit just from coughing. In the lead-up to the shelter-in-place order set forth in the renewed declaration (in Bowie County), defendant forced plaintiff to ride in a company vehicle with his visibly ill co-worker to a job in Atlanta, Texas," the complaint alleges.
The complaint claims Maxwell's allegedly wrongful termination has caused him to suffer actual damages including lost wages and mental anguish. Maxwell alleges he has been unable to find work since being fired.
"As for his claim for mental anguish, plaintiff was terminated after being forced to work in close confines with a visibly ill person prone to coughing fits," the complaint states. "Plaintiff was forced to self-quarantine out of an abundance of caution for his family's safety —all the while fearful that he had already been infected and had, in turn, infected his loved ones with coronavirus because of defendant's malfeasance."
Maxwell alleges US Lawns acted with malice and that he is entitled to exemplary damages. Maxwell claims that not only did US Lawns wrongfully fire him because company management didn't want to employ pandemic safety measures but it has since contested his claims for unemployment benefits, "showing the true depths of its vindictiveness in these most uncertain times."
Maxwell is seeking compensation for lost wages, mental anguish, attorney fees and court costs as well as exemplary damages. The case is currently assigned to Circuit Judge Brent Haltom who serves Division 2 of the 8th Judicial District South of Arkansas.