DPW worker fired after caring for dying wife
LAWRENCE, Mass. (WHDH) -- Their friends call it a great love story. Tom and Heather Sapienza had been married eight years, so a terminal brain cancer diagnosis was more than they could bear.
Without question, Tom honored his vows and his wife and used up all his vacation and sick time. Then, he took unpaid leave from work to care for her.
Initially granted some time he was denied an extension and told to return to his job at the Department of Public Works.
“Heather couldn't even have the peace during the last 30 days of her life knowing that her husband could have a job to go back to,” said Michael Sweeney, former elected official, city of Lawrence.
Sapienza’s job was to maintain a field at Lawrence High School. Something his lawyer said he was proud of.
But leaving his wife was not an option. She made it through Christmas and even saw the first three days of 2013 dying at just 40 years old on Jan. 3.
In the meantime, Tom had been fired.
With no wife, no job and bills piling up, his lawyer is now prepared to file a reverse racial discrimination lawsuit with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination.
"We firmly believe that if Tom Sapienza was Hispanic and not white that he will have a job to come back to with the city of Lawrence,” said attorney, Ellen Shimer-Brenes.
7News tried to contact various people at the DPW and representatives with the city of Lawrence, but haven’t heard back.
In the meantime Tom's position as a laborer has been filled by Jose Santiago, a former state representative who is currently sitting in jail after he was arrested early Saturday for violating a restraining order.
"They confirmed that the arrest warrant was still active and he was taken into custody. He was brought back here to the station and was charged with violation of a restraining order,” said Chief John Romero, Lawrence Police Department.
Adding insult to injury, Sapienza's lawyer feels Santiago’s credentials were in question to begin with. He has no laboring experience and his driver’s license is currently suspended.
Sapienza did not qualify for the Family and Medical Leave Act. Because of city imposed layoffs he didn't have the required number of hours even though he didn't want to be paid while he was caring for his dying wife, he just wanted a job to return to.