Investigation suggests “probable cause” in COVID-19 workplace discrimination case of former Canandaigua nursing home employee

The New York State Division of Human Rights has ruled that “probable cause” exists in a workplace discrimination complaint that had been filed almost a year ago by a former employee at one of New York’s largest nursing home companies amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Bill Corino, a former employee at Ontario Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing Center, a subsidiary of the Centers Health Care company, filed a COVID-19 workplace discrimination complaint with the state’s Division of Human Rights a few months after he “voluntarily retired” in mid-April, according to the company that lobbied on a host of nursing home-related bills last summer while funding Governor Andrew Cuomo’s coffers since 2010.

In a recent letter that FingerLakes1.com obtained, Ontario Center “engaged or is engaging in unlawful discriminatory practice” — suggesting that “probable cause” is apparent in the individual case of Corino’s forced termination.

A year ago, Corino was gainfully employed until being let go by Canandaigua-based nursing home, which led to him exclusively speaking with FingerLakes1.com about single-handedly creating his own COVID-19 protocols inside the nursing home while simultaneously watching his “friends” slowly pass away from that same illness.

Since then, however, the 53-year-old resident of Clifton Springs, admittedly lost his home last year, became unemployed — considering himself unqualified for other local jobs while being “passed over for a younger generation” — even though he’s a skilled 30-year maintenance and landscaping professional. 

But now he has some semblance of hope on the horizon, especially when it comes to quite possibly ‘righting the wrongs’ from last spring. 

“I’m sure it’ll look great on their business record: being guilty of discrimination,” Corino told FingerLakes1.com

Prior to receiving the aforementioned determination from the agency that solely enforces the state’s Human Rights Law, Corino kept negotiating back and forth on three possible settlements prior to filing his final rebuttal for his verified complaint on January 26 — which might’ve called for a public hearing to be eventually scheduled. But that outcome wasn’t certain yet.

Five months later, the Division of Human Rights believes that the company might be at fault — two months ahead of a preliminary phone conference that’ll eventually lead to a public hearing out of Rochester.

For companies like Centers Health Care that are subject to being possibly found guilty of creating COVID-19 workplace-based discriminatory practices for employees, it can be a costly and equally tolling consequence to incur in New York State. Businesses can be held responsible for recouping all lost wages if an employer unlawfully terminates a position or sends a worker home in violation of the state’s protections for workers. 

Although Corino rejoiced upon reading the letter regarding his own case, his unemployment funds have been depleted ever since mid-October of last year and it still might take another six months before any final ruling in a court of law is handed down by a presiding judge.

Around that same time in October, Jeffrey Jacomowitz, the director of corporate communications at Centers Health Care, declined to comment on Corino’s complaint and ongoing Division of Human Rights investigation that FingerLakes1.com closely covered.

Several months have passed since then and in a follow up inquiry with Jacomowitz after the state identified found probable cause in the case of Ontario Center’s forced termination of Corino — the company’s position still hasn’t changed in spite of the latest development.

Jacomowitz wrote in an email: “We haven’t changed our response when this first came about.”