Nicholas Prada, a former employee at Tomukun Noodle Bar on East Liberty Street, filed a suit in a U.S. district court Friday claiming he was wrongfully terminated after contracting COVID-19 in late June. According to the lawsuit, Prada and his attorney, Noah Hurwitz, allege that Tomukun’s actions violate numerous federal acts, including the Families First Coronavirus Response Act and Family Medical Leave Act.
In an email to The Daily, Hurwitz said employers should not retaliate against employees in order to protect their public image. Instead, they should act with compassion and understanding for employees who may get sick, Hurwitz said.
“It appears that Tomukun lost sight of its legal obligations to employees and punished my client for contracting COVID-19 when it wouldn’t put him back on the schedule after he recovered,” Hurwitz wrote. “While we are all tasked with being responsible and doing our best to avoid spread of the virus, businesses should not attempt to pass judgment on employees who fall ill.”
The lawsuit claims that Trifecta Productions, LLC, the company that owns Tomukun, did not respect Prada’s rights as an essential employee during the pandemic and fired him only after learning that he may have contracted COVID-19 at a party he attended earlier that month. It also claims that Prada was refused payment in the weeks he was out of work because of his illness.
“As a frontline essential worker, Mr. Prada risked his health for the benefit of the restaurant and its customers,” the lawsuit reads. “After refusing to pay him legally required sick leave compensation, Tomukun Noodle Bar unceremoniously fired Mr. Prada after interrogating him regarding the origin of his illness and telling him that ‘for PR reasons it would be best for you not to come back.’”
Prada began working at Tomukun in January 2018 and served as a waiter and assistant manager. According to the lawsuit, he reported feeling sick to his manager on June 24 and stayed home from work, later testing positive for COVID-19 on June 27. Prada was ordered by the Washtenaw County Health Department to quarantine for two weeks in his home following his positive test result.
The lawsuit said that once Prada completed his two-week quarantine, he had a 22-minute conversation about returning to work with Yong Hum Yon, Tomukun’s owner. During this call, Yon allegedly said there was social media evidence of Prada at parties and asked him not to return to work. Prada was fired on July 11.
Yon did not respond to request for comment.
The lawsuit also invokes an executive order from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer as evidence that Tomukun retaliated against Prada for contracting COVID-19. The order, as signed on April 3, says that employers are prohibited from discharging an employee because they stayed home from work due to illness.
“Individuals permitted to go to work under Executive Order 2020-21 must stay home when they or their close contacts are sick—and they must not be punished for doing so,” the order reads. “Accordingly, it is reasonable and necessary to provide certain protections against workplace discrimination to such individuals, to ensure they can do what is now most needed from them to protect the health and safety of this state and its residents.”
Daily News Editor Liat Weinstein can be reached at email@example.com.