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Exterior shot of the Wayne County Courthouse on Tuesday, June 18, 2018, in Wayne.

WAYNE — Wayne County officials responding to a federal lawsuit said a former employee was fired based on her performance, not in retaliation for her cautiousness during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Former Wayne County Sheriff Department employee Patricia Romans filed a lawsuit in December against the Wayne County Commission and sheriff Rick Thompson, accusing them of discrimination and retaliation for taking leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act.

Romans said she was fired after asking the sheriff’s office to follow CDC recommendations for COVID-19 precautions, such as mask wearing.

In their response, the defendants’ attorneys Wendy Greve and Jacob Layne, of Pullin, Fowler, Flanagan, Brown and Poe PLLC, said the “Plaintiff failed to attend work and her performance was otherwise unsatisfactory and she had no reasonable expectation of continued employment.”

They wrote any action taken did not concern her medical issues, but rather were taken with a legitimate business purpose.

Romans was hired as a clerk in January 2019 and had the job of processing tax payments, along with other duties.

Romans said she was fired following the expiration of her FMLA leave, which she said she took to help protect her from contracting COVID-19 due to a lung-based illness. Her attorney, Hoyt Glazer, said she had requested a mask-wearing policy be followed, but when the defendants refused to implement it, she took the leave.

Romans said the defendants did not follow mask mandates and her co-workers openly mocked her for wearing one by telling her she was “killing herself.”

After Gov. Jim Justice issued a stay-at-home order in March, Romans’ doctor asked that she be allowed to work at home, but the defendants did not respond to her request over the next seven months, the lawsuit said.

Instead, her doctor in July completed her application for FMLA leave, stating she would need it through the end of October. She was approved for unpaid leave; however, prior to her return, she received a letter saying she had been terminated the same day she was to return.

In their response, the defendants said she was terminated, but it was based on her prior performance.

Glazer claims Romans’ termination was made in retaliation for her asking for assurance that employees would comply with the mask mandate and other protective conduct under FMLA.

Both Romans and the defendants have requested a trial by jury.

Follow reporter Courtney Hessler at Facebook.com/CHesslerHD and via Twitter @HesslerHD.

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