Construction manager claims he was fired because he raised COVID concerns

This story first ran on BusinessDen.com, a BizWest news partner.

Amanda Pampuro

DENVER — A Denver man sued Kiewit Building Group on Monday, claiming he was fired last September after raising concerns about the company’s lax COVID-19 protocol.

“Despite having issued company-wide guidance on COVID-19 workplace safety in July 2020, defendant’s employees at the Ridge Gate Project to which plaintiff was assigned were not wearing masks properly; they were not observing appropriate social distancing; and employees were not disinfecting trailers or bathrooms after use,” Brian Sacks’ seven-page lawsuit filed in Denver District Court reads.

Based out of Englewood, Kiewit Building Group is a subsidiary of national Kiewit Corp. Founded in 1884, Kiewit runs construction projects across North America and generated $9 billion in revenue in 2018, according to its website.

Sacks said he has worked for nearly two decades in construction, building everything there is to build including “roads, highways, tunnels, bridges, subways, airports, commercial buildings, K-12 schools, correctional facilities, water pollution treatment plants, and high-rise vertical construction.”

Sacks began working for Kiewit Building in September 2019 as a scheduling manager, making $2,500 a week with medical and dental benefits and a 401k plan. In January 2020, he began working on an office building as part of the Ridge Gate Project in Lone Tree.

In March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic brought many construction projects to a screeching halt. When work resumed, Sacks recognized that he was a risky vector for COVID-19 because his fiancé is a frontline nurse. In June 2020, Sacks wrote to his supervisors requesting to work remotely.

“My fiancé is a nurse in a COVID clinic and I don’t want to put anyone at risk or be put at risk to put my family at risk,” Sacks wrote, according to the lawsuit. “Obviously you know I will come to the project anytime you need me there especially to go over the schedule and walk the project.”

“I really do think everyone should be wearing masks,” Sacks added in the email. “That’s just my opinion. I would never forgive myself if someone got sick if I didn’t have to. I think I’m pretty high risk due to my fiancé.”

According to the lawsuit, Sacks received a raise in April 2020 then passed a performance review on June 25. After he began working remotely, however, Sacks was removed from the Ridge Gate Project in August, then fired in September.

“The company policy is only as good as its enforcement,” said Sack’s attorney, Jeffry Dougan of the Denver firm Marathon Law, who sees the case as a David versus Goliath fight. “Many companies know what the magic buzzwords are, they know what to say, and when to say it to escape liability.”

“When we got his personnel file, there were no write ups. There was nothing in writing to suggest that he had any performance issues. He even got a raise in April 2020,” Dougan said. “So there’s something rotten in Denmark, as the saying goes, we just don’t know what it is.”

According to its COVID-19 page, Kiewit established quarantine protocols for workers exposed to the virus and provides surgical masks and eye protection to staff who work in close proximity as well as “face masks to employees at office locations who want them.”

“While we do not typically comment on active legal matters, we strongly disagree with the allegations contained in the complaint and will vigorously defend the company on this matter,” said Kiewit Vice President of Corporate Communication Bob Kula.

“Since the outset of the pandemic, we have followed guidance from public health officials and outside medical experts on appropriate COVID-19 protocols and have taken extensive measures to implement and enforce these comprehensive protocols to support the health of our employees,” Kula said. “We are proud of how those efforts have helped keep employees safer during the pandemic.”

Sacks is asking the court to award him back pay, front pay, and attorney’s fees.