Law Firm Fired Employee Because of Her Lymphatic Condition, Federal Agency Charges
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. - Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, LLP, a law firm with offices primarily in the southeastern United States, unlawfully refused to accommodate a disabled employee and subsequently discharged her because of her disability, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed today.
According to the EEOC's lawsuit, Charlesetta Jennings was diagnosed with breast cancer in July 2008, and received treatment for the cancer which included the removal of some lymph nodes. At the time of her diagnosis, Jennings worked for Womble Carlyle as a support services assistant, a position that required her to perform copying, scanning and other duties in the law firm's copy rooms. The EEOC's suit charged that in or about November 2009, Jennings developed lymphedema - a physical impairment caused by cancer treatment where the lymphatic system is damaged and/or lymph nodes are removed. The condition substantially limits a person's circulatory and/or immune system.
In June 2010, Jennings' lymphedema was exacerbated by lifting boxes, and she suffered swelling in her shoulder, neck, arm, thumb and finger. At this time, Jennings provided Womble Carlyle with a doctor's note which stated that she was unable to lift more than 10 pounds because of her history of breast cancer and risk of lymphedema. However, the EEOC said, Jennings was able to perform the essential functions of her job. Nevertheless, Womble Carlyle expressed concerns that Jennings could not do her job based on the lifting restriction. On or about Feb. 1, 2011, Jennings provided a follow-up doctor's note stating she could lift up to 20 pounds. Instead of providing Jennings with a reasonable accommodation, Womble Carlyle informed Jennings that she could not work until her doctor completely withdrew the lifting restriction. Womble Carlyle placed Jennings on disability leave on or about Feb. 10, 2011, and fired her on or about Aug. 9 of that year.
This alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which protects employees from discrimination based on their disabilities and requires employers to provide disabled employees with reasonable accommodations. The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, LLP; Civil Action No. 1:13-CV-00046) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The EEOC seeks back pay and compensatory damages and punitive damages, as well as injunctive relief.
"The law requires employers to collaborate with disabled employees and grant reasonable accommodations that will allow them to continue working," said Lynette A. Barnes, regional attorney for the EEOC's Charlotte District, which includes the EEOC's Greensboro Local Office, where Jennings filed her discrimination charge.
Tina Burnside, supervisory trial attorney for the EEOC's Charlotte District, added, "It is a violation of the ADA to refuse to provide a reasonable accommodation when one is available, and to fire the employee rather than implement the accommodation."
The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws prohibiting discrimination in employment. More information about the EEOC is available on its website at www.eeoc.gov.