Tom Sapienza, Worker Fired After Taking Unpaid Leave To Care For Dying Wife, Plans To Sue

The wife of a former Lawrence, Mass., Department of Public Works employee, who was fired after taking time off from his job to care for her, died on Thursday, NBC affiliate WHDH reports.

Heather Sapienza, 40, died of brain cancer on Jan. 3. Her husband, Tom Sapienza, had taken unpaid leave from his job to look after his dying wife but found himself without a job in November after his leave apparently ran out, according to the report.

Now he's planning to sue.

Sapienza had worked for the Lawrence Department of Public Works since 2002, but had been laid off twice -- once in 2008 and again in 2010, according to The Eagle Tribune.

According to the paper, Sapienza had already used up his vacation and sick days when he asked to be given unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act, a federal law that requires employers to give workers time off if a member of their family is ill. The law requires employers to hold the worker's job for them while they are on leave, but unfortunately for Sapienza, being laid off had prevented him from clocking enough hours to qualify, The Boston Globe notes.

Nevertheless, the city still gave Sapienza unpaid leave and told him they'd keep his job for him.

However, on Nov. 26 -- the Monday after Thanksgiving -- Sapienza was fired. The Lawrence Department of Public Works did not immediately return a request for comment from The Huffington Post, but a representative told The Eagle Tribune that Sapienza had been fired because they could no longer keep his job open for him.

"Do I wish that his wife would still be alive and that he'll be employed? Of course. But him not being employed today is something that he brought upon himself," Lawrence Mayor William Lantigua told WCVB.

In what some may consider a bizarre twist, Jose Santiago, a former state representative with ties to the mayor, was given Sapienza's job on the same day that Sapienza was fired, the Eagle Tribune reports. Santiago was Lantigua's "political mentor" and managed Santiago's successful campaign for reelection to the Massachusetts State House in 2000, the newspaper notes.

However, as WHDH reports, Santiago has no experience as a laborer and currently doesn't have his driver's license -- factors leading some to believe his job may have been a sort of political favor. To add to the controversy, Fox 25 reports that Santiago is currently being held in jail without bail after being arrested Wednesday for violating a restraining order that had been taken out by an ex-girlfriend.

But Sapienza doesn't plan to take his termination lying down. He hired a lawyer to file a reverse discrimination lawsuit against the city.

"We firmly believe that if Tom Sapienza was Hispanic and not white that he would still have a job to come back to with the city of Lawrence,” Sapienza's lawyer, Ellen Shimer-Brenes, told WHDH.

Taylor Dauksewicz, a senior paralegal with Shimer-Brenes's firm, told The Huffington Post that part of the case will focus on two Hispanic city officials who are still being paid salaries despite having been indicted on charges and suspended from their jobs. The firm will draw a contrast between the suspended officials who are still being paid and Sapienza who was not paid when he took leave.

"I never wanted to lose my job, I just asked for it to be put to the side for me so that I could take care of my wife, as any man should," Sapienza told WCVB.

A Facebook page devoted to supporting the late Heather Sapienza called has more than 600 members and hundreds of comments wishing her well.



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