Federal court dismisses ADA discrimination, retaliation suit against special needs service group

By Nicholas Malfitano | Jan 28, 2016

Access Services  

PHILADELPHIA – According to a federal judge, a woman’s former employer did not violate the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) and her suit alleging this discrimination and retaliation is dismissed.

Judge Michael M. Baylson ruled Monday to dismiss without prejudice plaintiff Beth Tyson’s suit against defendant Access Services for failure to state a claim, but also provided Tyson with leave to amend and re-plead her claim within 21 days.

Tyson filed her suit in August, alleging Access discriminated and retaliated against her because of her “association with and advocacy for” Access’s disabled clients.

Tyson was employed by Access for almost four years as a Lifesharing Coordinator, where she arranged services and advocated for the rights of disabled clients, whose disabilities included “bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, autism, and cerebral palsy.” Tyson received favorable performance reviews in this role.

After a new supervisor started in late 2013, Tyson says she was disciplined for confronting her supervisors over Access’s alleged failures to meet the needs of disabled clients, and also discriminating against them.

Access allegedly attempted to place a patient with cerebral palsy in a nursing home for reasons of cost, charged a patient’s provider for bed bug removal instead of absorbing the cost themselves and tried to prevent a slightly mentally-challenged patient from driving.

In all of these situations, Tyson advocated for the rights of the patients and against the company – which Tyson avers led her to be suspended without pay in December 2013 and terminated in January 2014. Tyson alleges other employees in her same role who did not advocate for the rights of disabled clients were not disciplined by Access. On Sept. 24, 2014, Tyson filed a charge alleging disability discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and received a right to sue letter.

Baylson explained under the law, Tyson’s ADA associational discrimination claim failed.

“The ADA’s association provision protects qualified individuals from employment discrimination based on the known disability of an individual with whom the qualified individual is known to have a relationship or association,” Baylson said.

Baylson added Tyson’s association with and advocacy for her disabled clients being named as the cause for adverse employer action taken against her was “precisely the type of associational discrimination claim that the [U.S. Court of Appeals for the] Fourth Circuit recognized was for the Congress, and not the courts, to authorize.”

“Tyson’s complaint even construed in a light most favorable to her, does not allege a close relationship with any of her disabled clients,” Baylson said. “Tyson has failed to plausibly allege a specific association with a disabled individual.”

Baylson also stated Tyson’s retaliation claim fails as a matter of law, saying Tyson’s patient advocacy alone doesn’t constitute a protected activity under the ADA and “do not amount to a reasonable, good faith belief that Access’s conduct violated the ADA.”

“Tyson’s alleged complaints are similarly vague and, considered in the light most favorable to her, amount only to disagreements over patient care and expenditure decisions that are not protected conduct under the ADA,” Baylson said.

The plaintiff is represented by John S. Harrison of Broughal & DeVito, in Bethlehem.

The defendant is represented by Matthew Fontana of Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney, in Philadelphia.

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania case 2:13-cv-02057

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

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