MANCHESTER — When Debra Di Nola said two employees returning to the U.S. from Asia need to quarantine, she was fired from her job as a human resources manager for “exaggerating the ‘China Virus,’” according to a lawsuit Di Nola filed in the U.S. District Court in Concord.
Di Nola filed the lawsuit against her former employer, German manufacturer Freudenberg NOK Sealing Technologies in June. The company has operations in the U.S. including Ashland, Bristol, Northfield, and Manchester. Di Nola claims that leaders at the Manchester offices were unhappy she told two employees to stay home.
The company said in its response filed in court that Di Nola has a history of making exaggerated claims.
Di Nola claims that in late January two managers at Freudenberg approached her with questions about the virus. Two employees were scheduled to return to the U.S., one from China and one from Malaysia. The managers asked Di Nola to determine if the employees should return to work, according to the lawsuit.
Di Nola sought out medical guidance from a New Hampshire medical clinic, the Centers for Disease Control and the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services. She also sought instructions from the Freudenberg company guidelines. Armed with this information, Di Nola sent an email to Manchester Freudenberg Vice President Al Nadeau and others on Jan. 29 recommending that the two employees stay home for seven days so as not to infect coworkers.
Di Nola was reprimanded after sending that email, according to her lawsuit.
“On or about Feb. 11, 2020, Dr. Di Nola was summoned to a meeting with Vice President Nadeau and Vice President of Human Resources Stefan Politis,” the lawsuit states. “Vice President Nadeau advised Dr. Di Nola at the meeting that he could not work with her and did not trust her. Vice President Nadeau accused Dr. Di Nola of exaggerating ‘the China virus.’ Vice President of Human Resources Politis directed Dr. Di Nola to go home.”
Throughout the lawsuit, Di Nola is referred to as “Dr. Di Nola.” She appears to have a doctorate in management, and not medicine.
According to the company’s answer filed in court, Nadeau was upset with what he claimed were her exaggerations. She was also reprimanded for her work performance, according to the company response. According to Freudenberg attorney Martha Van Oot’s response:
“Nadeau stated that the situation with Di Nola didn’t work for him because of his lack of trust in her; and that when asked to provide examples of exaggeration in Di Nola’s communications, Nadeau referred to a discussion he had with Di Nola on Jan. 31, 2020, when she initially claimed that everyone in the plant was very upset about the fact that (the two employees) were traveling in China and Malaysia with the coronavirus in China, and that she had to ‘calm everyone down,’ and eventually admitted there were only two employees who were concerned, whose names she could not recall.”
According to court documents, DiNola began working for the company in 2014 and was promoted in 2017, earning a $2,500 special bonus for her work in 2018. She was promoted again in the fall of 2019, earning a $90,000 annual salary.
Di Nola’s attorney, Benjamin King, did not respond to a request for comment. Her lawsuit is seeking damages for lost wages as well as emotional distress.
Freudenberg representative Cheryl Eberwein declined to answer direct questions about the lawsuit, but said the company takes the health and safety of its employees seriously.
“As a matter of record, I can tell you that as a global corporation with manufacturing sites across the world, Freudenberg Sealing Technologies’ first priority has been and remains the safety of its global employees during this coronavirus pandemic,” Eberwein said in an email.
The case is now moving toward a trial in the federal court.
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