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Custodian at W&L says she was fired after testing positive for COVID-19

Custodian at W&L says she was fired after testing positive for COVID-19

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A former custodian at Washington and Lee University claims she was wrongly fired three days after testing positive for COVID-19.

Ashley Montgomery’s termination was in violation of her rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act, she asserted in a lawsuit filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Roanoke.

Hired in 2018, Montgomery was “an industrious, generous and dedicated janitor” who in addition to cleaning often donated or prepared food and drink for university employees, the lawsuit states.

She became ill Dec. 5, 2020, with COVID-like symptoms and was placed on medical leave. Two days later, she tested positive for the virus.

On Dec. 10, Montgomery received a letter from W&L — included in the lawsuit — stating that she was being immediately terminated for “repeated unsafe and inappropriate conduct.”

Those allegations are denied in the lawsuit, which includes a February 2021 letter to Montgomery from the former chair of the English Department, who called her “by far the best custodian our department has had over a long period of time.”

Montgomery recovered from her illness and was able to return to work, but W&L refused to reinstate her, the lawsuit says. Her attorney, Paul Beers of Roanoke, said she had since found another job, but with less pay and benefits.

The lawsuit asks that Montgomery be returned to her old job, and that she be awarded up to $100,000 for lost wages and other damages.

While declining to comment on details of the case, W&L said in a statement Thursday that it is committed to the health and well-being of its students and staff, and that it has provided free screening and paid time off to those affected by the pandemic.

“We expect all members of our community to abide by our COVID-19 related community values,” the statement read, while “understanding that failure to do so puts all students, faculty, and staff at risk and may result in disciplinary action.”

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Laurence Hammack covers environmental issues, including the Mountain Valley Pipeline, and business and enterprise stories. He has been a reporter for The Roanoke Times for more than three decades.

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