Archive for COVID

Gas Field Specialists Inc (GFS) Pays $184,000 to Ill Employee Fired for Increased COVID-19 Risk

A case involving Gas Field Specialists Inc (GFS),  EEOC v. Gas Field Specialists Inc, U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, No. 4:21-cv-01615, settled earlier this week. The case, filed in 2021 in Scranton, Pennsylvania, alleged that GFS, a Pennsylvania gas well service company, fired an employee with cancer because his cancer made him more vulnerable to COVID-19. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or EEOC, the company agreed to pay a $184,000 settlement to a longtime employee. The company denied any wrongdoing.

The employee who was fired, Marlin Houghtaling, told the EEOC that an owner of the company, GFS, told Mr. Houghtaling that the company had to lay off individuals who had pre-existing health issues during the COVID-19 pandemic that made them more vulnerable to COVID-19. The reason given to Mr. Houghtaling was that the company did not want these individuals to get sick. The company stated that Mr. Houghtaling’s diagnosis of cancer placed him at greater risk from COVID-19, and thus, he was let go.

Marlin Houghtaling was let go from GFS in May 2020. At the time, he was working as a rig hand and mechanic and had no restrictions in place due to his health. He had been working with the company for 15 years. The EEOC accused GFS of discriminating against Mr. Houghtaling specifically due to his illness, thus violating the Americans with Disabilities Act. The EEOC also made it clear that letting an employee go specifically because they were at higher risk for catching COVID-19 and suffering more severe symptoms was not a basis for firing an employee and amounted to disability bias.

The $184,000 settlement covered $174,000 in lost wages due to Mr. Houghtaling, as well as $10,000 in compensatory damages. As part of the settlement, GFS also had to agree not to lay off or fire employees who may be at a higher risk of COVID-19. EEOC also required the company to document its specific reasons for not recalling workers who may have been subjected to seasonal layoffs.

While GFS did not have to admit to any wrongdoing, the EEOC was pleased with the outcome. It helped to show that employers do not have the ability to make personal decisions for their workers in regard to their medical history. The EEOC said, “an intent to protect them from what it perceives as a risk of illness from COVID-19 does not excuse an action that is otherwise unlawful discrimination.” The outcome of this case helped to prove that point.


COVID-19 Testing Facility Loses Test Samples, Fakes Results in Wide-Reaching Medical Scam

On January 31, 2022, the state of Washington filed a lawsuit against COVID-19 testing facility Center for COVID Control for faking test results and delaying test results. According to the lawsuit documents, the company stored COVID-19 tests in garbage bags rather than properly refrigerating them and reported false results to patients and otherwise endangered public safety.

The lawsuit, filed in King County Superior Court, named the company’s founders, Akbar Syed and Aleya Siyaj, as well as Doctors Clinical Laboratory. Established in Illinois during the COVID-19 crisis, the firm quickly expanded to more than 300 nationwide locations. According to records obtained by the Attorney General’s Office of Washington state in a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) raid, the company collected test samples for both rapid testing and regular testing but improperly stored them. In some cases, it is unknown if they tested the swabs.

The lawsuit documents include personal testimony from patients and employees. In one case, a patient who traveled to a Washington facility for a rapid test, which guaranteed results in two hours, had to provide two samples after the company misplaced the first test sample. Told that the second sample had also been misplaced, she then received an email that stated her test results were negative. Already symptomatic, she took another COVID-19 screening at a testing site offered by the Washington Department of Health. It showed her as positive for COVID-19.

Employees of the company and former employees who quit when told to lie to patients and doctors about the status of test samples and results schedules. When the company fell behind on testing the samples, it told its call center employees to lie to callers either telling them that their results were inconclusive, and they needed to submit a second test sample or that their results would be available in 24 hours – whether or not the company had information on the sample.

The Washington state lawsuit also accuses the Center for COVID Control of defrauding the government. The company billed the US government for $124 million to date, for tests on uninsured patients. It also reported insured patients as uninsured. Some patients under Medicare coverage were told to report that they were uninsured. Once it fell egregiously behind on its testing, the company switched to a streamlined intake form that auto-filled “uninsured” as the insurance default.

The company had only obtained a business license for its Yakima, Washington facility in that state. Other locations temporarily closed, such as the Lakewood location, which its city officials closed in January. The lawsuit requests that the King County Superior Court penalize the firm for up to $12,500 per violation of the Consumer Protection Act, and permanently close all of its facilities.
According to Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson, “Center for COVID Control contributed to the spread of COVID-19 when it provided false negative results… [They] threatened the health and safety of our communities.”

Pfizer Asks Judge to Intervene In Lawsuit Case Seeking COVID-19 Vaccine Information

Pfizer Inc. argues it should have a say in a lawsuit seeking information about its COVID-19 vaccine to ensure trade secrets and confidential commercial information are not disclosed.

A group of doctors and scientists sued the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in federal court in Texas, seeking details about the FDA’s licensing of the vaccine. Pfizer’s lawyers told U.S. District Judge Mark Pittman that the company should be allowed to join the case so it can help the FDA avoid “inappropriately” disclosing trade and corporate secrets.

The doctors and scientists who sued the FDA argue it’s too early for Pfizer to join the case because no one is challenging redactions made to the records requested in the lawsuit. The judge has ordered the quick release of hundreds of thousands of documents in the case, noting it’s “of paramount public importance.”

The FDA told the court it believes Pfizer can help the agency navigate the “unusual and indeed extraordinary circumstances of the case.” Government agencies like the FDA control the release of documents under the federal public records law, but companies like Pfizer can challenge and sue to block the release of certain information.

The federal judge will consider Pfizer’s request and is expected to address concerns raised by the FDA about his order to start releasing 55,000 pages of documents monthly in March. The FDA previously proposed releasing 500 pages a month in response to the lawsuit, a schedule that would require more than 50 years to complete. Pfizer argues its intervention in the lawsuit “will help accelerate the release of documents.”

Pfizer stated in its court filing that it supports public disclosure of the FDA records related to its vaccine “to promote transparency and the public’s confidence.”

But lawyers with Siri & Glimstad, a New York boutique firm that filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Public Health and Medical Professionals for Transparency, argued Pfizer doesn’t need the court’s permission to help the FDA. The company can support the agency’s efforts to release the records without intervening in the lawsuit. The lawyers said they wouldn’t fight Pfizer’s intervention if the “involvement is limited to prevent delay or prejudice.”