Nicholas Malfitano Mar. 9, 2016, 12:00pm


PHILADELPHIA – A former bus driver is entitled to more than $22,000 in damages for being subjected to retaliation and discrimination on the basis of disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA), a federal judge has ruled.

Lucille Johnson filed suit against Dependability Company, LLC and Dependability Co. in June. After Johnson notified her employer that she suffers from depression, she alleged she was retaliated against and ultimately fired because of her disability.

Johnson, 50, began treatment for depression in January 2012; a condition which limits Johnson’s ability to “sleep, focus and engage in social interactions.” Johnson began working for Dependability in September 2013.

Despite her depression, Johnson was able to perform her duties as a bus driver with the defendants. During her employment, CEO Gwen Simpkins and Dispatch Manager Tonya Dickinson allegedly harassed Johnson, by suspending her from work, sending her home from work, calling her names, and laughing at her.

Johnson disclosed her depression and the fact that she takes anti-depressant medication to Simpkins and Dickinson, but according to the lawsuit, Simpkins and Dickinson continued to harass plaintiff after she acknowledged her condition.

As both Simpkins and Dickinson oversaw her work and ran the organization, Johnson did not know who she could take her complaints about the alleged harassment to and subsequently suffered emotional distress at her workplace.

In April 2014, Johnson was suspended from work for two days. After serving her two-day suspension, plaintiff returned to work. On April 14, 2014, the defendants terminated plaintiff’s employment on the ground that she had “quit" when she failed to report to work during the two days on which she was suspended.

Though Johnson gained new employment as a bus driver with the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf (PSD) the following week, she was involved in a motor vehicle accident in July that sidelined her from working as a bus driver and required her to undergo surgery. Subsequent to her recovery, Johnson attempted to resume her driver work with PSD in November, but the company (and several others) had no work available for her.

After considering the complaint and a November 2015 default judgment entered against the defendants, Judge Jan E. DuBois, of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, decided Johnson was eligible for monetary recovery on a number of fronts.

DuBois saw fit to compensate Johnson for back pay, pre-judgment interest and front pay, based on Johnson’s weekly wages, and compensatory damages.

“The Court enters judgment in favor of plaintiff and against defendants, jointly and severally, in the total amount of $22,520.22, consisting of back pay in the sum of $2,800.06, plus $59.60 in prejudgment interest, front pay in the sum of $9,660.56, and compensatory damages in the sum of $10,000, plus interest at the lawful rate from the date of this Memorandum and Order,” DuBois said.

The Court did not award punitive damages, feeling the harassment and retaliation Johnson went through was not based on “malice or reckless indifference.”

The plaintiff is represented by Adam C. Lease and Ari Risson Karpf of Karpf Karpf & Cerutti, in Bensalem.

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania case 2:15-cv-03355

From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at nickpennrecord@gmail.com

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