A former surgical assistant for a Montgomery County medical care facility
is suing the company for wrongful termination, claiming she was forced from her position because she needed to take time off to care for serious burns to her body.
Erin Knipple, who resides in Myerstown, Lebanon County, filed suit on Dec. 19 at U.S. District Court in Philadelphia against King of Prussia-based Pennsylvania Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery LTD. challenging her firing on June 26 of this year.
Knipple, the record shows, began working for the defendant as a full-time surgical assistant in January 2009.
The woman received positive employee evaluations, had no disciplinary record and got periodic praise for her work, the suit states.
On June 12 of this year, Knipple had an accident in which she sustained first-degree burns to her face, right arm and feet, and second-degree burns to her left ankle, according to the complaint.
The burns caused Knipple to seek out medical care and constituted a serious health condition under the Family and Medical Leave Act.
And while Knipple immediately notified the defendant of her serious health condition, the severity of her injuries, and need for medication attention, the business never provided the woman with a notice of her rights under the FMLA, the lawsuit alleges.
On June 17, the suit states, Knipple was told she would be fired from her job if she did not return to work, after which the plaintiff ended her leave and attempted a return to work.
During her first shift back, however, a doctor at the facility noticed Knipple’s first-and-second-degree burns and told the plaintiff she should stop working and seek immediate medical attention.
The next day, Knipple was admitted to Lehigh Valley Hospital for medical care due to her injuries.
She simultaneously notified her employer of the hospitalization, the complaint states.
The next day, Knipple was discharged from the hospital, although her doctors told her she could not return to work until she was cleared by the hospital’s outpatient burn center.
The plaintiff immediately notified the defendant of her inability to work as a result of her serious health condition, the suit states.
About a week later, Knipple was advised that she would not be able to return to work until July 1, a message she passed on to her employer.
The defendant responded by immediately terminating Knipple’s employment, the complaint says.
“Plaintiff indisputably had a serious health condition as defined under the FMLA, and was therefore entitled to leave under the FMLA for her own serious health condition,” the suit reads.
Management, the complaint alleges, “never once” offered the plaintiff leave under the FMLA, as required within two days or “as soon as practicable when learning of Plaintiff’s medical leave needs.”
The suit says that the defendant “willfully” violated provisions of the FMLA by terminating Knipple’s employment prior to the completion of 12 weeks of leave to which the plaintiff was entitled.
“It is believed and therefore averred that Defendant terminated Plaintiff because of her serious health condition in violation of the FMLA and because Plaintiff attempted to exercise her rights under the FMLA to take leave for her own serious health condition,” the complaint states. “Plaintiff has, because of Defendant’s wrongful termination of Plaintiff’s employment, been unable to obtain other employment and has been and will be forced to expend significant amounts of money on health insurance premium payments.”
Knipple says she suffered damages including, but not limited to, loss of employment and benefits, loss of earnings and earnings potential, loss of bonuses, and other economic damages, and that she suffered mental anguish, emotional pain and suffering, humiliation and damage to her reputation as a result of her firing.
The plaintiff seeks $150,000 in monetary damages, as well as costs and attorney’s fees.
Knipple is being represented by Philadelphia attorney Michael Murphy of the Murphy Law Group.
The federal case number is 2:13-cv-07432-RBS.