Pa. Dept. of Corrections sued for wrongful termination

By Jon Campisi | Mar 6, 2013

A former secretary for Pennsylvania’s Department of Corrections is suing the agency over claims that her firing after four years of employment was related to her requesting special accommodations due to her rheumatoid arthritis.

In her federal complaint, which was filed Feb. 28 by attorneys with the Penndel, Pa. firm Kolman Ely P.C., Philadelphia resident Crystal Seeney claims that the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections violated the Americans with Disabilities Act when it terminated her employment on March 12 of last year after the plaintiff had requested light work duty accommodations due to her physical condition.

Seeney was hired by the defendant in 2008 as a clerk typist, and she requested intermittent leave the following year under the Family and Medical Leave Act due to her rheumatoid arthritis, the complaint asserts.

The leave was initially granted by the department, although Seeney ended up filing a charge of discrimination against her employer in 2010 because she claims she was being unfairly discriminated against because of her disability and race.

Seeney claims that the department was aware of her physical ailment, which affected her ability to type, walk, lift things and care for herself, but nevertheless transferred her to a different department within the agency in May 2011 where she was actually required to type more than in her previous assignment.

“Plaintiff was given no explanation as to why she was reassigned to a job that adversely affected her disability,” the lawsuit reads.

Two weeks after this transfer, the suit states, Seeney went out on disability leave, although she claims she was denied leave under the FMLA.

On Dec. 8, 2011, Seeney informed her employer that she could return to work, but only in a part-time capacity, although days later an agency official informed Seeney that she would not be granted part-time status.

That official, identified as Barbara Kalinowsky, a co-defendant in the complaint, informed the plaintiff that she was not eligible for light-duty despite the fact that she had a disability, the complaint states.

It was at this point that Seeney applied for unemployment compensation benefits.

The defendant, the lawsuit alleges, subsequently and falsely claimed to the unemployment board that it had offered Seeney a light-duty position, and the Corrections Department soon began sending Seeney letters informing the woman that she would have to return to work full-time or be terminated despite her disability.

On March 12, 2012, the defendant held a “disciplinary conference” during which Seeney was told she was being terminated, the suit states.

“Plaintiff was terminated because she was disabled, required an accommodation, sought an accommodation and sought leave under the FMLA,” the complaint reads.

The defendants are accused of violating the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act.

The other two defendants named in the suit are Corrections Department employees Michael Wenerowicz and Diana Salkovitz.

The plaintiff seeks to have the defendants enjoined from discriminating against employees such as Seeney on the basis of a disability.

Seeney also seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, costs, attorney’s fees and additional injunctive and declaratory relief.

The federal case number is 2:13-cv-01081-AB.

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