Mayor Fires City Worker, Denies Unpaid Leave Time for Dying Wife

Tom and Heather Sapienza

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City worker Tom Sapienza has been fired by Mayor Lantigua as a laborer with the Department of Public works and has been replaced by former State Representative Jose Santiago.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. 



Lantigua Takes Medical Benefits, Will Terminate Hero Firefighter 

Tom Duggan

Tom Duggan

Tom Duggan is president and publisher of The Valley Patriot Newspaper in North Andover, Massachusetts. He is an author, host of the Paying Attention TV/Radio Program, lectures on media bias and police issues, is a former Lawrence School Committeeman, former political director for Mass. Citizens Alliance, and a 1990 Police Survivor. You can email your comments to

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85 Responses to Mayor Fires City Worker, Denies Unpaid Leave Time for Dying Wife

  1. Trey Whitaker Reply

    December 5, 2012 at 10:22 PM

    Mr. Sapienza is doing everything he can to do the right thing in the worst and most heartbreaking of situations. Mayor Lantigua has been considerate to a point but this good is completely undone by his recent gross mishandling. He has gone from appearing compassionate to looking both heartless and blatantly unethical. Doing the right thing by the Sapienza’s in this dire circumstance should prevail over cronyism.

  2. Paula Reply

    December 5, 2012 at 10:26 PM

    Terribly sad. Shame on this major!!

  3. Sue Sexton Reply

    December 5, 2012 at 10:36 PM

    This article is about my Daughter, Heather, and I’m heart broken that the last months of her life has to be so stressful for her. Her husband is her sole caretaker and intends to be until the day she is no longer with us. They are not looking for money or compensation although I’d like to see the mayor try to live on the pittance my daughter gets each month from Social Security Disability. He just wants his job after she loses her 18 month long battle with cancer. Thank goodness for the kindness of friends and family who have generously sent food and everyday staples to help get them through each month.
    Perhaps the mayor has fulfilled his legal obligation to Tom Sapienza but how about a little compassion for a my daughter.

  4. Christine Sapienza Reply

    December 5, 2012 at 10:56 PM

    The Family Medical Leave Act exists for just these situations!! Why is Lantigua not guaranteeing a job for Tom to go back to, considering the situation and the properly documented extension requests? In a life changing crisis like the one in this story, my brother and sister-in-law’s story, it seems unjust and cruel to distract a man and his wife from their final days together with a legal fight, hypocracy and cronyism.

  5. Patricia Ballard Reply

    December 5, 2012 at 11:42 PM

    Hope this mayor does not get re-elected because he has no heart.

  6. Jill Reply

    December 6, 2012 at 12:21 AM

    Please, reconsider granting Tom Sapienza his job back! He is trying to do what is best for his wife/ family, as any human being with a heart would do….
    thank you

  7. Ellen C. Shimer-Brenes, Esq. Reply

    December 6, 2012 at 4:18 AM

    It is our privilege to know Tom and Heather and we will make certain their voices are heard.

  8. Bonnie McGuire Reply

    December 6, 2012 at 6:34 AM

    Mr. Sapienza is doing everything he can to do the right thing in the worst and most heartbreaking of situations. He is not asking you for compensation, he is simply asking you for a little bit of time. This is such a sad story. Heather needs to have her husband by her side. I know this family and they are all good hearted people and they deserve this. Please reconsider….

  9. Judi Gabaree Reply

    December 6, 2012 at 7:00 AM

    Mayor you should be incredibly embarassed. Just because you can legally do something doesn’t mean you should. Imagine if you were in their situation. How would you feel if you were losing the love of your life & now your job? Do the right thing!

  10. debbie snitzer Reply

    December 6, 2012 at 7:10 AM

    Show some humanity. My niece deserves some piece of mind with all she has gone through and continues to face. Tom deserves some compassion with all he has done and continues to do for Heather. Would it kill the city of Lawrence to just hold a job open?

  11. Tara Gomer Reply

    December 6, 2012 at 7:46 AM

    Mr Mayor, At what point in life do we return compassion and humility back into our society! Although I do not know Tom and Heather personally – I feel compelled to be another voice that says to you – Sir, this was a poor decision! Tom is standing by his wife Heather who has been told she will die! Can you even imagine what that must feel like? As you sit Around your holiday table laughing and loving your family, will Tom and Heather be doing the same? This family is not asking for “free money”, they are asking to be able to spend Heathers final days together- savoring any possible moment or memory they can before she passes! Is asking to have a job for Tom to return to really so much to ask for? If it was your family would you not hope for the same comfort? This family is going through what must of us pray never reaches our doors- please sir – do the right thing – give this family peace of mind!

  12. Rebecca Reply

    December 6, 2012 at 8:23 AM

    Do the three sprites of Christmas need to visit the Mayor………………………….
    Mr Mayor, they say its never to late to do the right thing for the right reasons but time for this man his wife and the ones thy love must be more valuable than any of us can imagine . As a leader of this City you have the opportunity to show greatness and to model what compassion really is. This man is asking for so little and YOU have the power to do so much better than even that….You may not understand it now, but this will be a defining moment in your life, and the way we and you yourself see you …I urge you… make this better …. you needn’t wait for Christmas to share the joy in doing what is right and right now.

  13. Ilene (BinkyBecky) Reply

    December 6, 2012 at 8:34 AM

    Please find a way to reinstate Tom. He has been his wife’s dedicated caregiver through her difficult fight against a very serious cancer and very complex treatments and side effects. There are no remedies to change the unfortunate outcome for his wife, Heather. Please show compassion and ease Tom’s wearied heart and mind of this one burden over which you have control to remedy.

  14. Lisa Donald Reply

    December 6, 2012 at 8:38 AM

    I hope all of the residents of this city remember this on election day

  15. Jody Reply

    December 6, 2012 at 9:12 AM

    I can’t respond to this without bias, as Heather Sapienza is my sister. The mayor’s actions are deplorable. To claim to be *obligated* by law to terminate Tom Sapienza seems insincere. While I can understand finding a temporary worker might be necessary, I don’t see the need for termination. Extended leaves are granted all the time, women take maternity leaves unpaid utilizing FMLA and beyond. This was the mayor’s choice, and he chose to help a fellow politician over a dying woman and her caregiver. As said by Lisa Donald, I hope the people of Lawrence see what he has done to the Sapienza family and the Atwood family as well. His interests do not lie with the people that he was elected to serve. I thank Mr. Duggan for publishing this story and hope the outrage reaches town hall.

  16. Michelle Lawrence Reply

    December 6, 2012 at 9:34 AM

    What is wrong with this mayor? This is absolutely heartless. This man deserves to have a job to return to. Does this mayor think this man wants this leave of absence to care for his terminally ill wife? Do you think maybe he would love for his wife to be healthy so that could work every day? I hope that the town sees through this selfish, heartless mayor and at the very least does not re-elect him. What a sorry state of the world, when a man selflessly cares for his dying wife, only to be punished for it by unscrupulous politicians. THIS MAYOR SHOULD BE ASHAMED OF HIMSELF. GIVE THIS MAN HIS JOB BACK. This is some sort of pathetic power trip.

  17. Tony Sacco Reply

    December 6, 2012 at 10:43 AM

    Mr. Mayor I have only one thing to say…If given the chance would you not have loved to be with your mother Ana for that time before he death? I believe in reading up on you that you are a deeply connected family man. You have three daughters and a son that I believe would want to be cared for as Mr. Sapienza has cared for his wife. Do the right thing here and guarantee this mans job.

  18. Amy Reply

    December 6, 2012 at 10:48 AM

    What has happened to compassion and humanity? Tom Sapienza is a man who has given himself completely to caring for his wife. He, as well as Heather, live with the day to day heartbreak of this situation. Has Heather not passed quickly enough for the mayor? Is Heather and Tom’s fight, strength and courage something that should just be overlooked for some kind of political agenda? The mayor is making moves based on politics with very little care and concern for the real lives of the people in the community. Tom is simply asking for his job back. To me, that is a very small request for a man who has dedicated every last minute to his wife, and is just looking for a way to pick up the pieces of his life after she is gone.

  19. Mike - Methuen,MA Reply

    December 6, 2012 at 12:07 PM

    Why couldn’t they of extended his leave, and hire a Temporary Employee till he was able to come back? Use a Temp. Company, and the City wouldn’t of had to be responsible for any benefits! They would be saving money! Instead, he allegedly goes against standard hiring protocol, and hires a friend/acquaintance?? Will Mr. Santiago be getting any benefits since he is temporary??

    This worker has been, and is going through hell right now. Nothing like putting “salt in the wound” at their time of need! Just what the wife needs is to worry about her Husband & Family during the short time she has. They should be enjoying themselves & relishing every moment.

    Instead, they are forced with having to fight a legal battle, pay big attorney fees and deal with unbelievable stress on top of everything else!

    What ever happened to Employers taking care of their veteran/career employees that have served them faithfully for a multitude of years in general? Now days, seniority means hardly anything. My wife worked at a Methuen Nursing Home for just under 20 years. When she left her full time employ in order to go back to school & forward her career, there was no “thank you” letter, no exit interview, NOTHING from the company administration! She was asked for her employee ID, name tag at the end of her last scheduled shift, period.

    Mr. Mayor, this was a chance for you and your administration to shine, grab some MUCH NEEDED positive publicity, and most of all help an employee and his family in dire need, especially during the Holiday season upon us.

    I truly believe in the saying: “What goes around, comes around” and I hope this is true with you!

  20. kathy Reply

    December 6, 2012 at 12:08 PM

    I am disgusted beyond belief reading this. I am hoping to read a statement from the Mayor saying this is a big misunderstanding. If not, then shame on you and Karma will surely come your way.

  21. Nathaniel Reply

    December 6, 2012 at 2:16 PM

    Tom Sapienza for mayor!

  22. cadhardware Reply

    December 6, 2012 at 2:17 PM

    It’s not rocket science, it’s humanity Mr. Mayor. ‘Tis the season to have a heart. Tom Sapienza is guided by his as should you. Please give Tom his job back and keep your integrity.

  23. Laura Emilia Reply

    December 6, 2012 at 4:32 PM

    InThe heartlessness of this Mayor disgusts me and I feel very sorry for the people that he represents. I think that it is deplorable for the Mayor to decide how long is an appropriate length of time for Tom to spend with his wonderful wife. While the mayor may be upset that Heather is fighting to be here and have this time with her family I am personally thankful to be able to witness her strength and to be continually amazed by the absolute love and respect that surrounds.this family.

    I also find it sad that the Mayor wants to hide behind the excuse of the law for his reasoning behind this ridiculous decision. Allowing Tom to retain his job costs the town and the Mayor absolutely nothing. At some point in life people need to just stop and think…what is the right thing to do as a human being?

    Trust me when I tell you….THIS IS NOT THE RIGHT THING!!!!

    Love and blessings to Tom, Heather and all of those who are going through this heartache with them.

  24. Missy Reply

    December 6, 2012 at 5:42 PM

    When you can see the personal end of the horrible situation you can’t help but want to reach out to that mayor and try to talk some sense into him. I’m sure, at one time or another he has bent / fractured the rules in other less important situations. Also, at a time where he certainly needs to shine a brighter light on his administration, he is placing a black cloud over it. Shame on you Mr. Mayor. Did you attend any of the fund raisers? Did you make any contributions? #grinch

  25. Steve Baker Reply

    December 6, 2012 at 5:51 PM

    I wish that I could look at this situation without bias, but I find that impossible. I am Heather’s father. She’s been a part of our life every day for the past 40 years. The pain that she, Tom, and her family have endured over the past year and half can only be measured in in tears. From the day of her first seizure, two days after her 39th birthday, and the dreaded diagnosis, Tom has put himself second to looking after Heather. From driving her into Boston for chemo and radiation, to making sure she as comfortable as possible, he never put himself before her well being. As for you, Mr. Mayor, I pray that you never find yourself in the position of watching your child slowly fighting a battle that cannot be won. Show a modicum of compassion, and keep a job available for Tom Sapienza, until my daughter has been put to rest.

  26. Marc W Reply

    December 6, 2012 at 6:52 PM

    I find the actions of the mayor to be disgusting and reprehensible beyond belief. For anybody who has even known Heather and I plead guilty to the pleasure of knowing her, she has been as courageous as a person in her situation can possibly be, and she has a husband who has been every bit as courageous. There is absolutely no reason why this mayor couldn’t use a temp instead of hiring a crony. Too bad the mayor doesn’t even have the humanity to put himself in Tom Sapienza’s shoes. Apparently, he doesn’t even have the capability of seeing his own reflection in the mirror. If he did, maybe he’d see the ugliness staring back at him. Give Tom his rightful job back! God bless both Heather and Tom, and their family.

  27. Missy M. Reply

    December 7, 2012 at 7:24 AM

    Mr. Mayor~
    A little act of kindness goes a long way!

  28. AM Reply

    December 8, 2012 at 3:35 AM

    I’d suggest a Tom Sapienza for Mayor movement. Clearly, he has a better grasp on the right priorities than the current Mayor.

  29. hank abbott Reply

    December 8, 2012 at 3:52 PM

    I am appaled at the current situation the Mayor has placed the Sapienza family. Heather Sapienza was my employee for 14 years. Until her sickness, she was dependable, hard working and a teacher of all my new employees. Har attitude when knowing she had cancer was “Tom and I will get through this issue”. Tom was constantly with Heather at her good time and has never left her side in bad times. I hope the decision makers for Toms job never have to face their loved one coming down with cancer. This situation is unacceptable.

    • Steve Baker Reply

      December 8, 2012 at 4:00 PM

      Thanks Hank, That really means a lot to us. Heather has always thought of you as a surrogate father. She couldn’t have picked a better one.
      Steve, Heather’s dad.

  30. Sean F Griffin Reply

    December 9, 2012 at 4:00 AM

    Like I wasn’t angry enough! This is an amazing woman and someone I have been lucky enough to count as a friend. I’ve known Heather since third grade at Hockanum School. She has been struggling and fighting this terrible disease and her primary care taker (husband Tom Sapienza) can’t count on getting his job back? Mayor Lantigua … you should be ashamed of yourself!! Playing (bad) politics instead of using common decency and a modicum of compassion. I know Larry is a shit city and maybe it would fare better with a change in leadership. Might as well start with you. Seriously shameful.

  31. Jarrett Barrows Reply

    December 9, 2012 at 7:46 AM

    Tom Sapienza is a GOOD man!!!!!

  32. Shan Reply

    December 9, 2012 at 8:14 AM

    Really Mr Mayor, I hope Karma reaches up and grabs you by the balls and twists some sense into your dumb self! Get a life, The poor guy is losing his beloved wife and you add more fuel to the inferno. A real Mayor would stand up to what is the right thing to do! Secure the guys job, give him something to look forward to in the end. Tom and Heather thinking of you guys always, Heather keep up the fight!

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  34. tom Reply

    December 10, 2012 at 9:38 AM

    Mr Mayor, Santa is watching

  35. Alice Anne Loftus Reply

    December 10, 2012 at 8:03 PM

    My heart is absolutely breaking over this terrible situation. I cannot even properly articulate how horrible I feel and how I believe the Mayor has without a doubt made a terrible decision, one that I feel goes against all humanity, compassion, love and understanding. This is a heartwrenching reality, not some ploy to gain money or “work the system”. This is a man that wants to be there with his wife until the very end. They should not be thinking about whether or not he has a job, they should be thinking about letting her come to peace at the end of her battle, holding one another, counting their blessings that they have shared in their time together and feeling love, support and compassion from all those around them. Cancer is as terrible terrible battle, one that Heather has fought hard, and for this burden to be added to their hearts and minds at this time is simply…CRUEL.

    Heather, Tom, and all your family and friends…you are in my prayers.

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