Jim Boyle May 23, 2014, 7:09am


A former employee at a behavioral health clinic says in a federal civil suit filed on May 21 that her employer's accusation that she had mental health problems before suspending and terminating her employment violated provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Barbara Durning, of Honeybrook, Pa., in Chester County, says that her administrators at Holcomb Behavioral Health Systems violated a section of the ADA that says "a covered entity shall not require a medical examination and shall not make inquiries of an employee as to whether such employee is an individual with a disability or as to the nature of the disability, unless such examination or inquiry is shown to be job-related and consistent with business necessity."

According to the complaint filed at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, the fact that Durning was only perceived to having a mental health disability met the threshold under the provision. She is seeking compensatory and punitive damages and an injunction against Holcomb from continuing such practices.

The claim says that Durning worked at Holcomb as a receptionist for more than four years with a clean record and positive employment evaluations. In December 2012, her manager, Libby Stipcevich, accused Durning of having a bad attitude and being disrespectful. When she requested another meeting to discuss the comments, her manager said she was just a receptionist and did not deserve further explanation, according to the complaint.

After writing a letter about the incident to the top executive, William DiFabio, Durning was summoned to his office, where he and Stipcevich accused her of having psychiatric issues that needed immediate attention. A few days later, Durning was suspended, followed by receiving a letter from Stipcevich that said Durning was required to send "weekly counseling reports from a licensed mental health professional showing significant improvement and having resolved issues interfering with your satisfactory job performance."

According to the court documents, Durning complied with the stipulation and saw a doctor who later wrote a letter stating, "There does not appear to be any evidence of any mental health concern that would limit Ms. Durning's ability to function in the work setting."

When Durning attempted to deliver the letter to her employer, Stipcevich replied that even if she had 100 letters, she still was not cured, the lawsuit claims. Durning says that Stipcevich and DiFabio clearly perceived that she had psychiatric problems, yet they never attempted to make accommodations for her disability, as required in the ADA, the lawsuit says.

The plaintiff is represented by Pietro Barbieri of Barbieri & Associates in Exton.

The federal case ID number is 2:14-cv-02894-CMR.

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