Former mental health facility counselor files claim over lost job

Jon Campisi Oct. 26, 2011, 10:26am

A woman who was fired from her job at an area mental health facility has filed a federal complaint against her former employer, alleging that the company failed to inform her that her medical leave that she had to take was used up by the time she was scheduled to return to work.

Philadelphia attorney Albert J. Michell filed the lawsuit Oct. 25 at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on behalf of Philadelphia resident Ta’Lisa Douglass.

The defendant named in the lawsuit is the Lenape Valley Foundation, which is a Doylestown, Pa.-based nonprofit assisted care facility for individuals with mental health issues and other challenges.

According to the civil action, Douglass, who was hired by the defendant as a residential counselor in November 2001, was terminated from her position in late July 2010 after the company alleged that she “abandoned” her job.

In her claim, Douglass, who was out of the country recuperating from a work-aggravated illness from mid June through mid July 2010, maintains that she was unaware she had used up her federally approved family and medical leave sick days while she was on an intermittent break back in February 2010 through April 2010.

Douglass, who suffers from asthma and other breathing problems, alleged that she had to take time off work after her symptoms worsened due to mold that came from a leaky air conditioning unit at her desk.

The lawsuit claims that, at first, the company did nothing to address the workplace hazard, but that it later took care of the problem. Nevertheless, Douglass had to spend some time at two area hospitals to recover from her injuries, the suit states.

Douglass had to take time off of work for a couple days back in June 2008 because of her physical impairments, and she alleges that the company initially failed to properly compensate her for time owed.

This led Douglass to file a complaint with the United States Department of Labor, which ended up auditing the defendant. This, in turn, caused the company to pay Douglass the $6,000 she claims she had been owed in back pay, the suit states.

Douglass soon learned that company officials weren’t happy with the audit, and threatened to retaliate against the person who contacted the Labor Department. Officials, at that time, hadn’t know Douglass was the one who contacted the agency.

In May 2010, the suit states, the company finally had the mold problems relating to the air conditioning unit fixed, but Douglass’ respiratory problems persisted, causing her to have to go on full-time medical leave shortly thereafter.

In June, when Douglass met with a company official to pick up her back pay, she was told to “go home and get well.”

Then, on July 1, 2010, the defendant sent Douglass a letter incorrectly stating that she had exhausted her medical leave as of June 30, 2010, and that as a result, her reinstatement rights were expired and her position was no longer available, the lawsuit states.

The defendant subsequently allegedly recalculated Douglass’ medical leave, and determined that her leave actually expired on July 9, 2010, but it never informed Douglass of the finding, the suit claims.

The defendant ended up hiring a permanent, non-disabled individual to replace Douglass, the suit states. The person was hired prior to the actual expiration of Douglass’ medical leave.

It wasn’t until July 20, 2010, however, that the defendant contacted Douglass to tell her she was officially terminated from her job.

Through her lawsuit, Douglass claims violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, and the Family and Medical Leave Act.

The complaint also contains a count of retaliation in relation to the incident involving the U.S. Department of Labor.

Douglass seeks lost pay and benefits, and compensatory damages for future pecuniary losses, pain, suffering, inconvenience, mental anguish and loss of enjoyment of life, as well as unspecified punitive damages and other legal and equitable relief.

A jury trial is being demanded.

The federal case number is 2:11-cv-06678-JD.

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U.S. Department of Labor
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