More than eight years ago, Tony Lynah was illegally fired from his job at JetBlue Airlines as a ground operations crew worker at JFK Airport in Queens after he used sick time to care for his mother, who had recently suffered a stroke and required round-the-clock care. For the better part of a decade, Mr. Lynah, who was represented by A Better Balance, persisted in his pursuit of restitution from JetBlue, as the airline vehemently denied any liability. Indeed, JetBlue maintained that New York City’s Earned Safe and Sick Time Act (“ESSTA”) did not even apply to the company—a stance characteristic of the airline industry’s approach to the thirty-some paid sick leave laws currently in effect throughout the United States. Nonetheless, on March 30, 2023, an agreement was finally reached between the New York City Department of Consumer and Worker Protection (“DCWP”) and JetBlue, resulting in a $45,000 restitution payment to Mr. Lynah.
Mr. Lynah started working for JetBlue in 2011 and has been his mother’s primary caregiver since 2013. She receives dialysis multiple times per week, is bed-bound, and cannot be left alone. When Mr. Lynah arrived a mere nine minutes late to work one day because his mother’s relief aide was late in arriving, he was suspended, and ultimately fired by JetBlue.
At the time, Mr. Lynah was not aware that New York City had recently passed ESSTA, thereby giving employees in New York City the right to up to forty hours of paid, job-protected sick leave for their own medical needs or those of a family member, including unforeseeable needs. This law had taken effect several months prior, on July 30, 2014, yet JetBlue had failed to inform employees of these new protections and continued to discipline employees like Mr. Lynah for using legally-protected sick time in violation of ESSTA.
When he became aware of the law through his own research, Mr. Lynah attempted to advocate on his own behalf with the company. His goal was, and remained, to simply get his job back. “I never thought I would like working at an airline,” Mr. Lynah said. “But the people I worked with were great. I still keep in contact with some of them. It’s unfortunate that I lost my job due to something that happened outside my control.”
Indeed, losing his job had an immediate impact on Mr. Lynah as the loss of income rendered him ineligible for the apartments he had been applying for and endangered his ability to make his student loan payments. Mr. Lynah also struggled to find similar employment that would not conflict with his caregiving obligations, adding extra pressure to his familial responsibilities.
When he was unsuccessful in persuading JetBlue to reinstate him, Mr. Lynah filed a complaint with DCWP and later retained A Better Balance to represent him at DCWP. After an investigation, DCWP found JetBlue had violated ESSTA through its treatment of Mr. Lynah. However, DCWP’s prosecution of Mr. Lynah’s complaint was stalled for years due to litigation involving another airline that was similarly refusing to comply with ESSTA. And without a private right of action that would have enabled Mr. Lynah to file his claims in court and prosecute them on his own, Mr. Lynah was forced to wait until DCWP’s other case was resolved.
After that case concluded, JetBlue finally agreed to compensate Mr. Lynah for his lost wages under a consent order entered into between JetBlue and DCWP and sent him a check for $45,000.
“We are pleased Mr. Lynah was finally able to receive restitution for his illegal firing, but we are frustrated that airlines continue to refuse to follow the law almost a decade after ESSTA was passed. ABB will continue to fight to ensure JetBlue, and all other airlines, provide their employees with the penalty-free paid sick time they deserve to care for themselves and their families,” said A Better Balance Co-Founder and Co-President Sherry Leiwant.
“One of JetBlue’s core values is ‘caring,’” Mr. Lynah said. “For some reason they didn’t trust their employees that if they called out sick they were really sick. When I explained that I was late by minutes because I couldn’t leave my mom by herself, I was let go. I was shocked at how hard they pushed back against providing just five sick days. I hope that especially after everything we all went through with COVID that they’ve realized five days is really nothing. I hope that’s something COVID taught them: people need at least five days.”
A Better Balance stands with workers like Mr. Lynah in the airline industry and in the workforce at large who have experienced firsthand the punitive effects of abusive attendance policies that punish workers for protected absences. If you have been penalized for missing work due to your own medical needs or those of a family member, don’t hesitate to contact our free and confidential legal helpline to learn about any legal protections you may have.