PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY, Md. (FOX 5 DC) - A Prince George’s County judge denied part of a motion on Tuesday to dismiss the case in a lawsuit filed by the family of a supermarket worker who died of COVID-related complications early on in the pandemic.
The judge denied Giant supermarket’s attempt to dismiss the case but did give the family’s attorney 14 days to amend their claim against an assisted living facility also named in the lawsuit.
"Justice for my daughter. We’re not done," said Leilani Jordan’s mother, Zenobia Shepherd when FOX 5 asked what the Tuesday ruling meant to her. The Maryland mother also told FOX 5, "Everyone has rights. People with disabilities have rights … profits before people is not a right."
The family sued Giant supermarket, a supervisor and the assisted living facility 27-year-old Leilani Jordan lived in, saying that as part of her Cerebral Palsy diagnosis and other mental health needs, Jordan was supposed to be monitored 24/7, especially working in a program for people with cognitive needs.
Jordan’s parents claim that was not happening, that Jordan was not required to wear PPE at work and that proper COVID-19 mitigation measures were not in place. This was in April 2020 during a time shortly after lockdowns began and seniors were even given special shopping hours at the supermarket.
The attorneys arguing against the lawsuit pointed to the Maryland State of Emergency, claiming it protects employers. It was argued Tuesday that the case should go through worker’s compensation instead.
"There’s still work to be done to keep this litigation on track. We can’t comment as to any of the interpretation of the court, but understanding that we are moving in the right direction, and we are laying the groundwork for people to be protected by their employers," Attorney William C. Johnson Jr. Told FOX 5. He represents Jordan’s parents and her estate.
"This is groundbreaking in the sense that at least it’s being shifted into that paradigm that the judge at least going to allow the parties move forward and potentially keep the case out of a worker’s compensation scheme," said Paley Rothman's attorney Scott Mirsky, who specializes in employment litigation.
Mirsky told FOX 5 the judge not moving the case to a worker's compensation for Giant also means the family wouldn’t be limited to the same caps in damages if they win.
"There is still a long way to go. There’s two major things that the employee or any employee who’s bringing this type of case against their employer has to be able to show if you want to keep it in the court system, that you have to be able to prove that you were injured because of your employer’s negligence, and you also have to prove that the exposure to COVID happened in the workplace, and those are two pretty high burdens," said Mirsky.
Shepherd told FOX 5 her daughter was "bubbly" and "just loved helping people."
"No mother wants to bury their child. When you depend on people to take care of your loved one, your baby. And protect them and keep them safe – it’s criminal," Shepherd told FOX 5.