Stephanie Belanger, filed a lawsuit against NBC Universal, L.L.C. in New York State Supreme Court alleging that her former employer is liable for disability discrimination, sexual harassment, and retaliation. Belanger claims that NBC violated New York State and New York City Laws and owes her compensatory and punitive damages.
This particular case is interesting because it involves retaliation and two different types of discrimination: Sexual harassment and disability discrimination. Let’s take a closer look at the claims and how they present themselves in Belanger’s complaint.
New York State and New York City prohibit employers from discriminating against workers or applicants because of a disability. Employers have an obligation to make reasonable accommodations for individuals who can perform the essential functions of the job. For example, an employee who has a hearing impairment may ask for headphones in a meeting to amplify the sound. An employee with a back problem may ask for a new chair or a desk that allows him to stand while he works on his computer. These would likely be reasonable accommodations.
Sexual harassment is a kind of sex discrimination that occurs when a coworker makes the work environment hostile or inhospitable. Repeated joke telling, sexual innuendo, unwanted touching and sexual propositions are some common behaviors that result in sexual harassment in the workplace. Employers have an obligation to take steps to prevent such conduct and to rectify it when it occurs.
The laws that forbid discrimination also prohibit retaliation. Employers may not make any adverse employment decisions because an employee complains about harassment or other unlawful treatment. Firing, demoting, transferring or otherwise punishing someone for trying to protect his or her rights violates numerous laws.
Belanger has Epilepsy. Her Manager Susan Martin and NBC became aware of this fact in November 2015. Martin informed the Senior Supervisor John Carleo. In September 2016, Belanger suffered a seizure at work and went by ambulance to the hospital. She returned to work with a doctor’s note giving her full clearance to return to work “immediately.” NBC, however, demanded that she remain home, without pay, until NBC “gave clearance.”
The following week, Martin and Carleo told her that because of her disability and the recent seizure, she could not work past 6 pm. Other employees are allowed and some even required to remain on site past 6. In October Martin and Carleo began removing various job responsibilities because they felt that she was “overwhelmed” and did not have a “sufficient work-life balance.” This cut in responsibility and time resulted in a substantial pay decrease. Belanger reminded them that her epilepsy was being treated and her doctor put no restrictions on her ability to do her work.
In March 2017, Belanger had another seizure at work. She was put on a new medication that she told her supervisor the doctor said could have some side effects for two months. The side effects included emotional outbursts and anger. Shortly after that, NBC offered her a permanent position (she was working as a contractor) for an amount less than the woman who previously held the position and lower than what she was making as a contractor.
As for the sexual harassment, some of the incidents Belanger lists in her complaint include:
Belanger alleges that Martin and Carleo learned that she was speaking to others about the harassment and soon decided she was no longer a good fit for the company, letting her go. Belanger claims this reasoning was all pretext as she was offered a permanent position only a week earlier.
Belanger believes that she was fired because of her disability and in retaliation for complaining about the sexual harassment and disability discrimination. She thinks that NBC did not try to engage in meaningful dialogue to accommodate the needs of her epilepsy which at no time made her incapable of doing her job.
New York State and New York City provide recourse for employees who face discrimination, harassment, and retaliation. If you choose to pursue a claim, you may be entitled to significant monetary compensation. Belanger in her complaint asks for damages for lost income, future earnings, employment benefits and emotional injuries. Seeks punitive damages because she claims the defendants acted knowingly.
If you work in New York and your employer is harassing or discriminating against you, call our employment lawyers at Leeds Brown Law for a free consultation. Our office takes calls 24/7 so don’t wait. Find out more about protecting your employment rights from attorneys who can help.