Federal Contractor Harassed, Refused to Provide Reasonable Accommodation, Then Fired Employee Due to Disability and Complaints, federal agency charges.
WASHINGTON - Clinton, Maryland-based federal contractor MSDS Consultant Services LLC violated federal law by failing to reasonably accommodate a project manager's post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and panic disorder, subjecting her to a hostile work environment, and firing her because of her disability and her complaints of discrimination, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed Thursday.
According to the EEOC's lawsuit, LaRufus Mitchell began working for MSDS as an analyst, project manager, and security specialist in April 2014, and was assigned to provide services for the U.S. Department of State (DoS). Prior to her position with MSDS, Mitchell worked as a direct employee of DoS. While employed with DoS, Mitchell filed a grievance alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). She later filed claims against DoS in federal court. In March 2016, Mitchell began to suffer symptoms of PTSD and panic disorder and had to take a medical leave of absence. Around that time, MSDS found out about her ADA complaints against DoS and chastised Mitchell for not disclosing the complaints to them. Over the next several months, MSDS repeatedly denied and delayed granting schedule adjustments to facilitate her return to work; withheld her pay; interfered with her receipt of insurance benefits; and otherwise subjected her to a hostile work environment. In June 2016, Mitchell hired a lawyer to communicate with MSDS about her requested accommodations, and in July 2016, she sought continued accommodations. Thereafter, MSDS's mistreatment persisted and MSDS searched for a justification to terminate Mitchell's employment, the EEOC alleges. In August 2016, MSDS sent DoS an email speculating that Mitchell would ask for more accommodations in the future and if she did, they suggested she should be replaced. On October 3, 2016, MSDS fired Mitchell, claiming her ADA lawsuit against DoS was a conflict of interest.
Such alleged conduct violates the ADA, which prohibits disability discrimination and retaliation for opposing discrimination. The ADA requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to individuals with disabilities unless it would cause an undue hardship. The EEOC filed suit (EEOC v. MSDS Consultant Services, LLC, Case No. 8:18-cv-02917-PX) in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its administrative conciliation process. The EEOC is seeking permanent injunctive relief prohibiting MSDS from discriminating against employees because of disability or retaliating against them for engaging in protected activity in the future, lost wages, compensatory and punitive damages, and other relief.
"Employers must remember that the rights extended to employees under the Americans with Disabilities Act include the right to reasonable accommodation of disability-related limitations and the right to oppose unlawful discrimination," said Mindy E. Weinstein, acting director of the EEOC's Washington Field Office. "A company cannot harass or fire an employee because she asks for an accommodation or because she may ask for one in the future; because she complains of discrimination by her current employer or by an employer from her past."
Philadelphia District Office Regional Attorney Debra Lawrence said, "Instead of accommodating Ms. Mitchell, MSDS harassed her and retaliated against her for exercising her rights under the ADA. The EEOC is here to protect and enforce those rights for Ms. Mitchell and other individuals with disabilities." The Washington Field Office has jurisdiction over the District of Columbia and the Virginia counties of Arlington, Clarke, Fairfax, Fauquier, Frederick, Loudoun, Prince William, Stafford and Warren; and the independent Virginia cities of Alexandria, Fairfax City, Falls Church, Manassas, Manassas Park and Winchester. The EEOC advances opportunity in the workplace by enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. More information is available at www.eeoc.gov. Stay connected with the latest EEOC news by subscribing to our email updates.