Jim Boyle Jan. 9, 2015, 10:01am


PHILADELPHIA - An ex-employee of a Center City law firm says her termination was in retaliation for her requests for time off that were protected under the Family Medical Leave Act, according to a wrongful termination lawsuit filed at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

Valerie Worthen, of Wilmington, Del., demands restitution from Duane Morris, LLP, in Philadelphia for back pay, benefits and future earnings on eight counts, including violations of the FMLA and the Americans with Disabilities Act. She also asks the court to prohibit the firm from allegedly maintaining a policy of discriminating against employees based on their disabilities.

According to the complaint, Worthen worked as a legal assistant at Duane Morris beginning in December 2010. Approximately one month later, Worthen's doctor diagnosed her with a precancerous breast disease, which required the plaintiff to take periodic medical leaves for treatment.

In October 2012, the claims says, the plaintiff submitted FMLA documentation to the human resources department on the recommendation of her doctor. A month later, Worthen informed the human resources manager that she would need to enroll in the firm's health insurance program because her husband's employer would no longer provide coverage, she says.

Worthen's enrollment went effective on Jan. 1, 2013, and a few days later her medical condition required the plaintiff to take periodic medical leave, the complaint says. On Jan. 24, 2013, Worthen was called into a meeting with the human resources director, who said low performance ratings forced the firm to terminate her employment, the complaint says. She was allegedly offered an opportunity to sign her resignation in return for one month's salary, but Worthen refused and was fired immediately.

According to the complaint, Worthen had not received any prior indication that her job performance had been lacking. Her only evaluation occurred in February 2012, in which Worthen received positive feedback, she says. The claim says the given reason for the termination was pretext for the firm's retaliation in response to the plaintiff's legal use of FMLA days.

The claim says that Worthen was entitled to receive up to 12 workweeks of leave without fear of retaliation from her employer. The complaint also says that Duane Morris' actions discriminated against Worthen's disability and failed to make reasonable accommodations for her requests for medical leave.

The plaintiff is represented by attorneys from Swartz Swidler, LLC in Cherry Hill, N.J.

The federal case ID is 2:15-cv-00039-MB.

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