Lanier Technical College, a unit of the Technical College System of Georgia, will pay $53,000 in back pay and compensatory damages and revise its policies and procedures to settle a Justice Department lawsuit alleging the College violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by terminating along-time College employee based on her multiple sclerosis filed in the Northern District Of Georgia on November 4, 2019. In addition to this disability discrimination allegation, the Justice Department complaint also alleges the removed the employee from the teaching schedule for an entire school semester, thus reducing her hours and pay to zero, due to her multiple sclerosis after the employee took three days of sick leave one summer. The lawsuit and its settlement reminds academic health care and other public and private employers about the need to use appropriate care to avoid inappropriate discrimination against individuals with disabilities in employment and other operations.
The College had employed the terminated employee as a part-time emergency medical technician (EMT) lab assistant for over three years before the events prompting the lawsuit took place. The essential functions of her job involved assisting instructors in the classroom and in the lab, and perform “check offs” to authorize and certify that the students mastered particular technical competencies (e.g., properly taking blood pressure, starting a patient’s I.V., assessing a patient’s vital signs). In addition to her employment with the College, the former employee also worked as a paramedic for an unrelated employer. She continued to work as a full-time paramedic for nearly three years after the College terminated her employment as a part-time lab assistant.
Less than a year into her employment at the College, the former employee was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in 2010. Shortly after her diagnosis the former employee notified among others, notified the Director of the Lanier Paramedicine Technology (PMT) Department, Sam Stone, of her condition and Mr. Stone subsequently discussed her MS and treatment with her over the course of her employment with the College. According to the Justice Department complaint, the former employee did not require any reasonable accommodations for her disability, remained qualified to perform the essential functions of the part-time lab assistant job, and did so successfully until College discharged her or otherwise altered her compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment.
In 2012, the former employee assisted with classes and labs taught by Instructor Andy Booth. Instructor Booth managed the work schedule for all the part-time EMT lab assistants who assisted with his classes, including that of the former employee. This included the ability to remove lab assistants from any shifts they requested. Director Stone then completed a final review of the semester and approved the schedule and any changes to it.
During the summer of 2012, the former employee had to miss her assigned workdays on two or three occasions due to her MS and its treatment. She also was on disability leave from her paramedic job for a period during that summer, returning to work full-time in early August. Following these absences, Instructor Booth on August 30, 2012 sent an email to lab assistants, including the former employee requesting that lab assistants sign up for open shifts on the work schedule, as he was “still short on help.” The schedule with available shifts was posted for September through December 2012. The former employee signed up for seven or eight four-hour shifts over the course of the fall semester that same day and emailed Instructor Booth the evening of August 30 to inform him of this. In her email, she indicated that she was no longer on disability leave from her other job.
Two weeks later, on September 12, 2012, the College removed the former employee from the work schedule for the entire fall semester schedule on the written instructions of Instructor Booth with the approval of Director Stone. Instructor Booth’s September 12 email instructions to his assistant provided a link to the online work schedule for the lab assistants and stated: “Any day you see [the former employee], just take her off.” Director Stone was copied on this email. That same day, Director Stone replied to Instructor Booth’s email, stating that he had reviewed all of the dates up to December and approved the schedule. The College knew that, by removing the former employee from the schedule, it was terminating her employment with Lanier.
When the former employee realized that someone removed her from the schedule for the entire semester, she contacted Instructor Booth. He told the former employee, by text message, that it was Director Stone’s decision and that Director Stone wanted to give the former employee “some time to heal.” Instructor Booth also stated that Director Stone seemed upset about the former employee missing a few days in the summer due to her MS. Instructor Booth then directed the former employee to speak to Director Stone. He did not offer to reinstate her for any of the days she signed up for or for any future dates.
Thereafter, on September 26, 2012, the former employee contacted Director Stone by email. After telling Director Stone i her email that Instructor Booth said Director Stone was managing the schedule and had wanted to give her “some time to heal,” she reassured him that she appreciated his concern but that she felt she was “OK.” When Director Stone responded on September 23, he confirmed the correctness of Director Stone’s email and also confirmed that he was concerned with the former employee’s health. He offered to discuss these concerns further with her in private. He did not offer to reinstate her for any of the days she signed up for or for any future dates.
Later that day, the former employee called Director Stone. On the call, Director Stone expressed concern about legal and liability issues and whether the former employee was fit to work because of her MS. He said that he, as the Department Director, had to be concerned about her health and medical issues, because a student could challenge a grade on the basis that her MS made her unfit to evaluate students. Director Stone also referenced a couple days that the former employee missed work due to her MS during the summer, and stated that she was less reliable than other lab assistants were at that point. He did not offer to reinstate her for any of the days she signed up for or for any future dates.
Approximately six months later, College removed the former employee from the payroll and changed her payroll status to “terminated.”
On September 26, 2012, the former employee filed a timely charge of discrimination with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), alleging that College terminated her because of her disability in violation of the ADA. The Justice Department filed the lawsuit after the EEOC referred the former employee’s complaint to it.
Title I of the ADA prohibits covered entities including the College from discriminating against a qualified individual on the basis of disability in regard to job application procedures, the hiring, advancement, or discharge of employees, employee compensation, job training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment. 42 U.S.C. § 12112(a); 29 C.F.R. § 1630.4.
The Justice Department complaint against the College charged that the College violated the ADA by discriminating against her on the basis of her disability by:
- Removing her from the lab assistant work schedule for a semester and reducing her work hours and compensation to zero; and
- Terminating her on the basis of her disability
As a consequence of these discriminatory actions, the complaint charged the former employee suffered lost earnings, benefits and job advancement opportunities, as well as substantial emotional distress, pain and suffering and other nonpecuniary losses. The complaint asked the District Court to redress these injuries by:
- Declaring the College in violation of the Title I of the ADA and its accompanying regulation;
- Enjoining the College and its agents, employees, successors, and all persons in active concert or participation with it, from engaging in discriminatory employment policies and practices that violate Title I of the ADA;
- Requiring the College to modify its policies, practices, and procedures as necessary to bring its employment practices into compliance with Title I of the ADA and its implementing regulation;
- Ordering the College to train its supervisors and human resource staff regarding the requirements of Title I of the ADA; and
- Awarding the former employee back pay with interest; the value of any lost benefits with interest; and compensatory damages, including damages for emotional distress, for injuries suffered as a result of Defendant’s failure to comply with the requirements of the ADA;
Under the settlement agreement announced November 7, 2019 by the Justice Department, the College must pay the former employee $53,000 in back pay and compensatory damages, revise its policies and training staff on the ADA to ensure compliance with the ADA, train staff on the ADA, and report to the Justice Department on implementation of the settlement agreement.
Reaching this settlement allowed the College to eliminate its exposure to potentially much greater liability. In addition to actual lost compensation and benefit damages, a loss at trial could have resulted in a jury award that also ordered the College to pay attorneys’ fees and other costs, interest and exemplary damages of up to $300,000.
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About the Author
Recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: ERISA & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for 30+ years of management focused employment, health care, employee benefit and insurance, workforce and other management work, public policy leadership and advocacy, coaching, teachings, and publications including extensive work with businesses on compliance, risk management and defense.
Author of numerous highly regarding publications on disability and other discrimination and other employment, employee benefit, compensation, regulatory compliance and internal controls and other management concerns affecting health care, education, insurance, housing and other operations, Ms. Stamer’s clients include health care, insurance and financial services, educational and other employer and services organizations; employer, union, association, government and other insured and self-insured health and other employee benefit plan sponsors, benefit plans, fiduciaries, administrators, and other plan vendors; domestic and international public and private health care, education and other community service and care organizations; managed care organizations; insurers, third-party administrative services organizations and other payer organizations; and other private and government organizations and their management leaders. In addition to her legal and management operations work. Ms. Stamer’s experience includes 30 plus years’ of legislative and regulatory policy advocacy and drafting, design, compliance and enforcement including testifying to the EBSA Advisory Council on Employee Welfare and Pension Benefit Plans in on the effectiveness of employee benefit plan disclosures during 2017 hearings on on reducing the burdens and increasing the effectiveness of ERISA mandated disclosures as well as advice, representation, advocacy and testimony to and before and other work with various foreign governments, Congress, state legislatures, and a multitude of federal, state and local agencies.
Throughout her 30 plus year career, Ms. Stamer has continuously worked with these and other management clients to design, implement, document, administer and defend hiring, performance management, compensation, promotion, demotion, discipline, reduction in force and other workforce, employee benefit, insurance and risk management, health and safety, and other programs, products and solutions, and practices; establish and administer compliance and risk management policies; manage labor-management relations, comply with requirements, investigate and respond to government, accreditation and quality organizations, regulatory and contractual audits, private litigation and other federal and state reviews, investigations and enforcement actions; evaluate and influence legislative and regulatory reforms and other regulatory and public policy advocacy; prepare and present training and discipline; handle workforce and related change management associated with mergers, acquisitions, reductions in force, re-engineering, and other change management; and a host of other workforce related concerns. Ms. Stamer’s experience in these matters includes supporting these organizations and their leaders on both a real-time, “on demand” basis with crisis preparedness, intervention and response as well as consulting and representing clients on ongoing compliance and risk management; plan and program design; vendor and employee credentialing, selection, contracting, performance management and other dealings; strategic planning; policy, program, product and services development and innovation; mergers, acquisitions, bankruptcy and other crisis and change management; management, and other opportunities and challenges arising in the course of workforce and other operations management to improve performance while managing workforce, compensation and benefits and other legal and operational liability and performance.
A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel and Past Chair of both the ABA Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group and it’s RPTE Employee Benefits and Other Compensation Group, Ms. Stamer also has leading edge experience in health benefit, health care, health, financial and other plan, program and process design, administration, documentation, contracting, risk management, compliance and related process and systems development, policy and operations; training; legislative and regulatory affairs, and other legal and operational concerns.
A former lead consultant to the Government of Bolivia on its Pension Privatization Project with extensive domestic and international public policy concerns in pensions, healthcare, workforce, immigration, tax, education and other areas, Ms. Stamer has been extensively involved in U.S. federal, state and local health care and other legislative and regulatory reform impacting these concerns throughout her career. Her public policy and regulatory affairs experience encompasses advising and representing domestic and multinational private sector health, insurance, employee benefit, employer, staffing and other outsourced service providers, and other clients in dealings with Congress, state legislatures, and federal, state and local regulators and government entities, as well as providing advice and input to U.S. and foreign government leaders on these and other policy concerns.
Author of leading works on a multitude of labor and employment, compensation and benefits, internal controls and compliance, and risk management matters and a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer also shares her thought leadership, experience and advocacy on these and other related concerns by her service in the leadership of the Solutions Law Press, Inc. Coalition for Responsible Health Policy, its PROJECT COPE: Coalition on Patient Empowerment, and a broad range of other professional and civic organizations including North Texas Healthcare Compliance Association, a founding Board Member and past President of the Alliance for Healthcare Excellence, past Board Member and Board Compliance Committee Chair for the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas; former Board President of the early childhood development intervention agency, The Richardson Development Center for Children (now Warren Center For Children); current Vice Chair of the ABA Tort & Insurance Practice Section Employee Benefits Committee, current Vice Chair of Policy for the Life Sciences Committee of the ABA International Section, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section, a current Defined Contribution Plan Committee Co-Chair, former Group Chair and Co-Chair of the ABA RPTE Section Employee Benefits Group, past Representative and chair of various committees of ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits; an ABA Health Law Coordinating Council representative, former Coordinator and a Vice-Chair of the Gulf Coast TEGE Council TE Division, past Chair of the Dallas Bar Association Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Committee, a former member of the Board of Directors of the Southwest Benefits Association and others.
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