TSA agent claims Department of Homeland Security violated FMLA

By Jim Boyle | Sep 29, 2014

A former Transportation Security Agent says that his Department of Homeland Security

supervisors targeted his employment for termination out of retaliation for his several requests for time off covered under the Family and Medical Leave, according to a federal suit filed at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

Christopher Coleman, of Media, Pa., seeks compensatory and punitive damages against the Department of Homeland Security, its Secretary Janet Napolitano and Transportation Security Administration on counts of denying his accommodations requests and retaliating against his complaints of discrimination with the termination of his employment.

According to the complaint, Coleman worked as a transportation security officer for TSA and overseen by the Department of Homeland Security from 2002 until his firing in November 2013. In 2005, the suit says, he was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, an inflammation of the colon. The diagnosis and the side effects from the prescribed medication severely limited Coleman's ability to lead his previously normal life, including working his regular hours. The complaint says Coleman also suffered from a torn rotator cuff, hypertension and depression in 2013.

In early 2013, after taking a significant amount of time off during colitis flare-ups, Coleman's supervisors directed him to get new FMLA certifications from his doctor. His new paperwork said that Coleman's health conditions may require him to be out of work between five to 16 days during episodes, with as many as four episodes per six month period, according to the claim.

In May 2013, Coleman asked for an advance on his sick time, which had not yet accrued at that time. The complaint says that such a request was common in his department, but his supervisors denied the request. The plaintiff also says he experienced hostility from a member of the human resources department, who told Coleman that he should go out on disability because he is "out more than in."

According to the complaint, in July 2103 Coleman submitted a light duty request completed by his doctor, stating that he should work a maximum four-hour shift for 20 hours a week because of a tear in his rotator cuff. Three days after handing in the request, Coleman submitted more paperwork from his doctor that said he was cleared to work with no restrictions. Nevertheless, the claim says, his supervisors told Coleman to stay at home until his light duty request had been approved or denied.

Before getting sent home, Coleman was given another light duty request form and a Federal Occupational Health form, with the latter being characterized as optional and voluntary, according to the complaint.

Coleman provided the new light duty application, this time saying that he could work a full eight hour shift, but only four hours per shift could involve heavy lifting and other physical duties. The request was initially approved, then denied a few days later when his management informed Coleman that there were no positions he could fill with the physical limitations, a claim that the plaintiff calls false and that there were such positions available.

A medical professional ultimately declared Coleman as unfit for duty as a transportation security officer, a ruling that Coleman says was a retaliation for his necessary time off from work and a reaction to his recent requests for more accommodations, violating the FMLA. He also seeks reimbursements from back pay and benefits, plus any missed bonuses and salary increases from his seniority.

The plaintiff is represented by Ari Karpf of Karpf, Karpf & Cerutti.

The federal case ID is 2:14-cv-05505-TJS.

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