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Lawsuit: Age Discrimination Was Why Dental Hygienist Was Fired During Pandemic

May 5 2021

As it appeared in the Connecticut Law Tribune, Partner Nina Pirrotti represents a former Guilford-based dental hygienist who has sued her former employer alleging age discrimination in state court.

By Robert Storace

An age discrimination lawsuit filed April 20 in state court is part of a pattern of actions claiming that the global health pandemic has been used an excuse to fire employees, the suit’s filing attorney says.

Nina Pirrotti, an employment law and civil rights attorney for 16 years, said while some pandemic layoffs might be appropriate, others might not be so.

“I saw this potentially very early on in the pandemic, when employers first started laying off their employees,” said Pirrotti, a partner with Garrison, Levin-Epstein, Fitzgerald & Pirrotti in New Haven. “My concern was that while there may be many cases in which those layoffs would be appropriate, that would also provide cover for those unscrupulous employers who wanted to exploit the pandemic in order to unlawfully terminate employees either because of their membership in a protected class like race, gender or pregnancy or to retaliate against an employee who has engaged in a protected activity, like complaining about discrimination.”

Pirrotti said she’s currently handling five cases that “have the hallmark of COVID being used as a pretext for discrimination.” Those cases, she said, include two related to age, two related to disability and one that is pregnancy-related.
The most recent one concerns the termination of a 73-year-old dental hygienist in an age discrimination lawsuit filed last month in New Haven Superior Court.

In Cohen v. Thomas P. Petrick DMD and Theodore J. Katz, DDS, PC, it’s alleged that Susan Cohen was terminated under the guise of the pandemic when it was actually a matter of age discrimination.

According to the lawsuit, the Guilford-based business closed temporarily in March 2020 because of the pandemic. Cohen, the lawsuit said, “had every expectation that she would return to her job in short order. She was wrong. Two months later, Dr. Petrick told Ms. Cohen that he had to reduce staff and terminated her.”
The problem, Pirrotti said, was that Thomas Petrick allegedly made comments on several occasions about when Cohen would retire. In addition, Pirrotti said, the business allegedly compensated for Cohen’s hours by increasing the hours of two younger employees. Cohen was the oldest employee in the practice.

The lawsuit includes several examples of where it’s alleged that Petrick commented on Cohen retiring, because of her age, with patients.

The suit says that on more than one occasion, Petrick “joked with young patients who had just graduated college that they needed to get a job and start paying into Social Security so Mrs. Cohen could retire.”

Pirrotti said Cohen, a Guilford resident, never insinuated or outright said she wanted to retire.

“She had no intention of leaving and, to the contrary, she loved her job. It was an important part of the joy she got out of life,” Pirrotti said Wednesday.

Pirrotti said Cohen “was a highly productive and well-liked employee. She had no disciplinary history.”

Representing the dental business is Madison attorney Michael Iacurci, who declined to comment for this story.

Petrick didn’t respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

The lawsuit seeks economic damages, non-economic damages and punitive damages, among other relief.

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Nina Pirrotti

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Garrison, Levin-Epstein, Fitzgerald & Pirrotti, P.C.

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