Jon Campisi Jan. 28, 2013, 8:42am

A former employee of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority who claims he was fired from his job of less than a year because of his need to take medical leave due to a heart condition has filed a federal civil suit against the mass transit agency.

Philadelphia attorneys James A. Bell, IV and Jennifer C. Bell, of the firm Bell & Bell, filed the civil action Jan. 24 at the U.S. District Court in Philadelphia on behalf of John Donald, who was hired as a general helper for SEPTA in 2010.

During the summer and fall of that year, Donald sought medical treatment related to dizzy spells he was experiencing, which caused him to be late to work on one or more occasions prior to his seeking medical advice, the lawsuit states.

Donald soon learned that the cause of his dizzy spells was a heart condition, and he was informed by his doctor that a pacemaker installation was necessary.

Donald soon sought, and was approved for, leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act, and he had surgery for the installation of the pacemaker in the winter of 2010, the complaint shows.

The plaintiff was cleared by his doctor to return to work in January 2011, the suit states, although he was required to work light duty, a request never granted by SEPTA because the agency fired Donald as soon as he reported for work on Jan. 24, 2011.

“A review of the circumstances, including the very close proximity in time between his return from leave and his termination demonstrates that SEPTA’s termination of Mr. Donald was in violation of the FMLA and in retaliation for Mr. Donald taking leave pursuant to the FMLA,” the complaint reads. “Mr. Donald’s termination was also motivated by SEPTA’s discrimination on the basis of his race, African American.”

Other employees who worked at the same mass transit depot as Donald, however, were permitted to return to work with light duty restrictions after their own respective injuries, the lawsuit claims.

Those employees included two white mechanics.

The lawsuit accuses the SEPTA employees who were involved in Donald’s termination of acting with the intent of causing, or in reckless disregard of the “probability that their actions would cause Mr. Donald severe emotional distress.”

The suit claims that in addition to the emotional distress, Donald has also suffered financial losses as a proximate result of the actions and inactions of SEPTA.

The suit accuses the defendant of violating the Family and Medical Leave Act and the Civil Rights Act.

Donald seeks reinstatement or front pay, compensation and benefits to which he would have been awarded had he not been fired, liquidated damages, compensatory damages, attorney’s fees and other court relief.


The federal case number is 2:13-cv-00440-PBT. 

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