City worker fired after caring for dying wife preps lawsuit

Dylan Stableford
The Lookout

A Lawrence, Mass., man fired from his public works job for taking too much time off to care for his dying wife is preparing to file a reverse racial-discrimination lawsuit—and that's just the tip of the iceberg in a firing that has spawned its share of news.

"We firmly believe that if Tom Sapienza was Hispanic and not white that he [would] have a job to come back to with the city of Lawrence,” Sapienza's attorney, Ellen Shimer-Brenes, told WHDH-TV.

Sapienza, a 41-year-old maintenance worker at Lawrence High School, was let go by the Department of Public Works in November after refusing to return from an unpaid leave of absence to care for his 40-year-old wife, Heather Sapienza. She died Jan. 3 after a 19-month battle with brain cancer.

But that's not all. On Friday, the man hired to replace Sapienza, fired police sergeant and former state Rep. Jose Santiago—whose hiring at the high school was called a "controversial move by [Lawrence] Mayor William Lantigua" in the Eagle Tribune—was arrested for allegedly violating a protective restraining order obtained by his ex-girlfriend.

Also according to the Eagle Tribune, Santiago’s ex-girlfriend obtained the restraining order in Lawrence District Court on Wednesday. Santiago, 53, violated it outside a local night club, leading to his arrest early Friday, according to police.

News of the arrest prompted city council members to call for Santiago's immediate firing.

“Restraining orders are in place to protect the applicant," City Councilor Daniel Rivera told the paper. "We have to deal appropriately with people who break them."

Santiago, whose driver's license is currently suspended, was hired for the $15-per-hour job on Nov. 26—the same day Sapienza was delivered a pink slip signed by Lantigua.

The mayor's office did not immediately return a request from Yahoo News for comment.

"Most mayors left Tammany Hall behind long ago," columnist Yvonne Abraham wrote in the Boston Globe last month. "Prodded by anti-corruption laws and public opinion, they try to avoid the appearance, if not the reality, of impropriety. Not Lantigua. He doesn’t care how dodgy he looks—even now, with two close associates indicted on corruption charges, and himself the focus of several investigations."

Abraham added that "watching Lord Lantigua of Lawrence in action can be pretty entertaining. Until you remember there are actual people who live under his retro reign, and suffer for it."