Lawsuit claims city of La Feria worker fired after legs amputated

La Feria City Hall is seen in this undated photo. (Courtesy: City of La Feria/Facebook)
Only have a minute? Listen instead
Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

A former City Hall worker is claiming officials “wrongfully terminated” him after a COVID-19 infection led to complications forcing the amputation of his legs, according to a lawsuit.

In the lawsuit filed Monday in Cameron County Court-at-Law No. 5, Jose Forina, 57, of Alamo, is claiming he “was selected for his termination that was motivated by (the city) due to his permanent disability and age.”

Forina is requesting $50,000 to $300,000 in damages, claiming his firing led to income loss along with “past and future mental anguish.”

“Mr. Forina is requesting a jury trial so that justice may be served for all those as himself that are disabled in the workplace,” attorney John Shergold, representing Forina, said Thursday.

On Thursday, Mayor Olga Maldonado referred questions to City Hall, where City Manager Frank Rios declined comment, citing “pending litigation.”

The lawsuit argues Forina, who had worked since 2020 as the city’s administrative assistant and events coordinator at a salary of about $35,000 with benefits, “was a dedicated, loyal and hard-working employee” when officials “wrongfully terminated” him last September.

When he was fired, Forina was “a double amputee, whereby both of his legs had been removed below the kneecap due to complications during the COVID epidemic,” the lawsuit stated.

Forina, “who was 56 years of age at the time of his termination and permanently disabled, was well-qualified for his position since he had never received a negative evaluation during the time of this employment,” the lawsuit argues, adding his disability left him unable to drive a car.

The lawsuit claims the city “was aware of (Forina’s) condition and limitation and directed (a city official) to enforce a new policy directed at (him).”

“The city commission was aware” the city official had been driving Forina to work from Alamo, where each was living, the lawsuit states.

Then, in July 2023, the lawsuit states, the city official told Forina city commissioners weren’t allowing city employees to drive other employees in city owned vehicles.

Afterward, Forina’s family members drove him to work until Sept. 28, his last day on the job, the lawsuit states.

“At no time during (his) employment after returning to work with his permanent disability did (Forina) fail to appear to work and discharge his duties as required,” the lawsuit states.

Then in August 2023, Rios reprimanded Forina, accusing him of sleeping on the job, the lawsuit claims.

At the time, the lawsuit argues, Forina, who denied he had fallen asleep at work, was taking pain medication for his amputated legs.

On Sept. 20, 2023, Rios told Forina he had been issued a “non-disciplinary termination,” the lawsuit states.

“Rios explained in a written memorandum that his job and position with the city had been eliminated from the city’s budget,” setting Sept. 28 as Forina’s last day on the job, the lawsuit states. “Upon review of the minutes of the Sept. 19, 2023, city commission meeting, nothing in the minutes indicated that (Forina’s) position was eliminated or discussed.”

Nearly four months after Forina’s appeal, Rios responded the “bulk of the work was being done by other employees,” the lawsuit states.

“City Manager Rios failed to state truthfully that the employee that replaced (Forina) was Alma Quintanilla who is more than 10 years younger than (him) and is not under any permanent disability,” the lawsuit claims.

Now, “there is work that is available that (Forina) is qualified for, however, (the city) refuses to employ (him) as a full-time employee because of the discrimination motivated by (the city) due to (his) permanent disability and age,” the lawsuit claims.

Forina “believes that any reason or reasons provided for terminating (him) as a full-time employee are pre-textual and false that will be rebutted,” the lawsuit states.