In some circumstances when an employer makes work conditions so intolerable, ultimately causing the employee to no longer work for the employer and retire, an employee may still have viable legal claims. In Pallatto v. Westmorland County Children’s Bureau, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 27008 (W. D. Pa. March 3, 2014), the Plaintiff employee was employed as a case worker for 13 years. The employee was disciplined on a number of occasions for use of sick leave when she informed her supervisors that she was suffering from migraines and sleep problems. Thereafter, the employee applied for leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) and again informed her supervisors of her headaches and difficulty sleeping and the effect that each had on her ability to perform her job. Ultimately, the employee was diagnosed with lupus; she informed her immediate supervisor and provided a doctor’s note to the department administrator. Thereafter, the employee requested help from fellow caseworkers in completing her work and conducting visits, a common practice within the office. The employee’s managers questioned the legitimacy of the employee’s illness and made comments such as she was not really sick and she should find a job that she was able to perform. The employee was also repeatedly harassed about her use of sick time despite providing doctor’s notes. The employee was advised she would have to work later than the 4:00 p.m. time she previously ended work, even though the employee told supervisors that working past 4:00 p.m. prevented her from taking her medication. Eventually, the employee filed for indefinite leave under the FMLA; did not return to work and she eventually retired from her employment based on a disability.
In Pallatto, the employee filed claims against her former employer under the FMLA, and for disability discrimination under the ADA and the PHRA. The Court found that the employee set forth a prima facie claim for FMLA retaliation by demonstrating she was protected under the FMLA and she suffered a materially adverse employment action causally related to the exercise of FMLA rights because a reasonable jury could find that the numerous employment actions levied against her after she applied for FMLA leave were sufficient to create an overall scenario that would dissuade a reasonable worker from exercising FMLA rights, This evidence included the schedule alteration requiring the employee to meet with clients at times when she was unavailable; an expectation that she keep her case files updated by the day, while other caseworkers were given a month; prohibiting co-worker assistance in completing work even though this was a common practice within the workplace; and her immediate supervisors harassing her about missing work and telling her to quit and find a job she could perform. While the employer offered a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason for its action in that plaintiff was missing visits, making unannounced home visits when no one was present at the client’s home and falling behind with her dictation, the court found that the employee showed that these reasons could be pretextual because disciplinary and remedial measures aimed at the employee were not applied to others within the office. As such, the court concluded that the evidence sufficiently demonstrates weaknesses and inconsistencies in the employer’s proffered reasons for its actions.
The Court also found that the Plaintiff employee adduced sufficient evidence to create a genuine issue of material fact with respect to her claim for disability discrimination under the ADA and PHRA because a reasonable jury could find that the employee established an impairment through her FMLA application and her diagnosis of lupus which substantially affected major life activities such as sleeping and concentrating, as her condition affected her sleep and left her fatigued and unable to work. The court also found that the employee’s proposed accommodations, that fellow coworkers be allowed to help her complete her work and be allowed to see children in the morning so that she would not have to work past 4:00 p.m., were reasonable. The court also found that under the ADA, adverse employment decisions include the refusal to make reasonable accommodations for a plaintiff’s disabilities and there was sufficient evidence to support the contention that the employee asked for an accommodation and the employer did not make a good faith effort to assist her. Thus, the court found that because a reasonable jury could find that plaintiff was disabled and a qualified person under the ADA who requested and was denied a reasonable accommodation; and the employer had not identified legitimate reasons as to why plaintiff’s requested accommodations had to be rejected, the employer’s motion for summary judgment with respect to plaintiff’s ADA and PHRA discrimination claims must be denied.
In Pallatto, the court also found that the plaintiff employee produced sufficient evidence to move forward on her claim for hostile work environments because her job was made more difficult and frustrating through the actions of her supervisors, she was required to work a revised schedule that was known to be very difficult for her given her impairment and she also was subject to constant harassment about her illness.
For more information on the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Abramson Employment Law see http://www.job-discrimination.com/lawyer-attorney-1126523.html., http://www.job-discrimination.com/lawyer-attorney-1126511.html.