Mayor Fires City Worker, Denies Unpaid Leave Time for Dying Wife
By: Tom Duggan: December 4, 2012
Former Lawrence City worker Tom Sapienza has been fired by Mayor Lantigua as a laborer with the Department of Public works and has been replaced by former State Representative Jose Santiago.
Santiago has been a long time adversary of Lantigua and the two have a long sordid history as political allies, then adversaries, then allies again. Santiago was Lantigua’s candidate for State Representative this past year against Marcos Devers. Devers defeated Santiago with more than 80% of the vote on election day.
Tom Sapienza had been out of work since June 7, 2012, on an unpaid leave of absence approved by Lantigua, as he has been caring for his terminally ill wife.
Mrs. Sapienza is diagnosed with Metastatic Lung Cancer, which has now spread to her brain. Ms. Sapienza has undergone unsuccessful chemotherapy and radiation treatment and has less than a few months to live.
On August 7th of this year, Tom Sapienza requested an extension of his unpaid leave to care for his dying wife. Mayor Lantigua was provided the requisite medical documentation supporting the Family Medical Leave Act and approved the extension of that unpaid leave through October 25, 2012.
But when Sapienza requested another extension of his unpaid leave (for an additional ninety (90) days), again providing all the medical documentation to support his request. He did not receive a response from Lantigua until November 14th. That response consisted of a demand that Sapienza return to work on Monday, November 20, 2012.
Sapienza again communicated to the city his need for a brief extension, asking the Lantigua administration to extend his leave because he is the primary caregiver for his wife. Sapienza says he merely wanted assurances that when his wife passed away, he would have a job to return to; he says he was not and is not looking for money and/or pay.
But Mayor Lantigua’s office is holding firm in their position to terminate Sapienza saying that they made every reasonable accommodation for as long as they could before making the decision to terminate the DPW worker’s employment.
Sapienza has hired an attorney and is expected to file a discrimination claim against the City of Lawrence with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination.
“What people need to understand,” a source in Mayor Lantigua’s Office told the Valley Patriot, “we have to follow the law. There is only so much the city can do, and Mayor Lantigua has gone above and beyond to help this gentleman, but we are at the end of our options and the Mayor needed to fill the position. He was laid off in 2010 and the Mayor went out of his way to bring him back knowing his situation.”
Mayor Lantigua’s hired Jose Santiago as a “temporary” employee and did not go though the normal hiring process.
“All he (Sapienza) wants is a job to come back to,” one source close to Sapienza told the Valley Patriot. “He doesn’t want money, he doesn’t want any extra compensation. He just wants to be able to care for his wife and be there for her in her final days without losing his job. There is no reason why the city can’t continue to let him be on unpaid family leave for such an extreme case.”
Sapienza is being represented by North Andover Attorney Ellen Shimer Brenes.
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