Employee Fired After Informing Company of Need for Surgery, Federal Agency Charges
CONCORD, N.H. – Windmill International, Inc., a New Hampshire-based firm that provides defense consultation and program management to the U.S. government and international organizations, violated federal law when it fired an employee because she had informed the company that she would need surgery, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit it filed today.
The EEOC’s lawsuit, Civil Action No.1:11-cv-454, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of New Hampshire, alleges that Windmill International subjected Nancy Hajjar to disability discrimination by terminating her because of an actual or perceived impairment of her circulatory or cardiovascular functions. On March 22, 2010, Hajjar told the company that she had blocked carotid arteries, a potentially life-threatening condition that would likely require surgery to unblock them. On April 5, Hajjar informed the company that she would need to take time off for the surgery and that she might need heart surgery as well. The company fired her one week later, allegedly for poor performance. The EEOC asserted that this explanation was false, because, unlike other employees with alleged performance issues, the company never placed Hajjar on a written performance improvement plan, and the company’s explanation for why it failed to do so was also false.
Disability discrimination, including discrimination because an employer regards someone as disabled, violates the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). The EEOC filed suit after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The agency seeks monetary relief for Hajjar, the adoption of strong policies and procedures to remedy and prevent disability discrimination by Windmill International, training on discrimination for its managers and employees, and other relief.
“Firing someone because of her disability, real or imagined, is against the law,” said Elizabeth Grossman, regional attorney for the EEOC’s New York District. “This agency will vigorously prosecute cases where employers make negative employment decisions due to improper stereotyping of medical conditions.”
Markus L. Penzel, trial attorney in the EEOC’s Boston Area Office, which has jurisdiction over New Hampshire, added, “When an employer fires someone because the employee has disclosed a serious medical issue, she is at her most vulnerable. She deserves understanding and cooperation, not a pink slip.”
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the agency is available on the agency's web site at www.eeoc.gov.