Friday, July 15, 2011

Jury Finds Discrimination on Basis of Worker Disability

Another theory of liability that can arise in Pennsylvania employee wrongful termination cases is when a worker suffers an injury or develops a debilitating condition and the employer fails to properly accommodate them. This is well demonstrated in the case of Palumbo v. Quest Diagnostics Inc that concerned an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) claim.

Under the equal employment provisions of the ADA (Title I), it is unlawful for an employer to discriminate against a qualified individual with a disability. Like most discrimination statutes, the prohibition applies to conduct involving applicants and employees in the terms, privileges and conditions of employment. An employer must reasonably accommodate a disabled employee’s functional limitations unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the employer.

In January 2007, plaintiff Carmelena Palumbo, a 56-year-old data entry clerk for Quest Diagnostics Inc., who had been with the company for 27 years, started suffering from pain in her hands, arms, shoulders and neck. She complained to her direct supervisor about her newly developed condition and the impact it was having on her ability to perform her job. Her boss, unfortunately, did nothing in response.

Instead, Palumbo's supervisor suddenly put her on a performance enhancement plan for failing to meet the company's typing production goals. Shortly thereafter, Palumbo visited a doctor, and was diagnosed as De Quervain's tenosynovitis, a painful inflammation of the tendons. The doctor provided her with notes to submit to Quest, which stated that her condition was aggravated by the work she was performing and that her health would be improved through modified duty or a different job available within the company.

Per her doctors suggestion, Palumbo requested a transfer to a new position in which typing was not a central part of the job. Quest offered no other position, and instead treated her complaint as a workers' compensation claim. After meeting with the workers' comp doctor, who was not provided with her medical reports or job description, Palumbo was released to return to full duty with no restrictions.

In the fall, Palumbo continued to request a job transfer, which she claimed Quest denied. After requesting permission to see a hand specialist, Quest denied her request and, on Sept. 13, two days after requesting to meet with a specialist, Palumbo was terminated.

Where it gets really ugly is that Quest stipulated that it had 23 vacant, entry-level positions for which Palumbo met the posted requirements at the time she was fired.

Palumbo sued Quest under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), claiming it unlawfully terminated her in retaliation for having sought a reasonable accommodation in the form of a job transfer.

Palumbo argued that her first priority was to keep her job and that she met all of the company's demands throughout the ADA and workers' comp. process. Furthermore, she argued that after 27 years of service she had proven her loyalty and was not seeking a raise or a promotion, but an accommodation for her medical condition.

The defense argued that despite being placed on a performance enhancement plan and being told she had to increase her typing production, Palumbo was unable to adequately perform, which was the sole reason she was fired. Counsel for Quest further argued that Palumbo failed to follow through with the company's requests for additional information.

After a six day trial, the jury returned a verdict of $383,815 apportioned $225,000 for personal injury/compensatory damages and $158,815 for back and front wage loss. Share this post :
Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Share on StumbleUpon
Share on Delicious
Share on Reddit
Share on Digg
Share on simpy
Share on Technorati
furl Share on furl
Feeds RSS Subscribe to Feeds RSS

No comments:

Post a Comment