Until 2013, Nola Smith was a registered nurse at the Medical Surgical Department of North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System, now known as Northwell Health. She started work at Forest Hills Hospital, which is now part of the North-Shore-Long Island system, in 2008. Nola suffered from anxiety and panic attacks, for which she was prescribed medication. She negotiated a “flex” schedule with the hospital, consisting of no more than three 12-hour days most weeks.
In 2012, Nola took a medical leave from the stress of a tough workplace, including alleged harassment by a former supervisor. The Family and Medical Leave Act entitles a worker like Nola to take up to 12 weeks per year in unpaid medical leave necessitated by a serious health condition that may interfere with normal job functions. It prohibits employers from interfering with medical leaves and prohibits retaliation against an exercise of the federally-guaranteed right to take medical leaves. Still, in September of 2012, the hospital where Nola worked placed her on a Progressive Discipline Policy because of her “sick time.” This resulted first in a verbal warning, then in a written warning in December of 2012. Finally, Nola was fired in mid-2013.
Nola filed suit against the North Shore-Long Island hospital system in 2015. In February of 2018, Judge Margo Brodie of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, a district which includes Long Island, ruled that Nola could have valid claims under the Family and Medical Leave Act, as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the New York City Human Rights Law. A disability may be mental, such as anxiety or depression, or physical, such as a heart condition or diabetes, under the ADA and laws like the New York City Human Rights Law. Judge Brodie concluded that Nola may have been terminated and denied transfers to more prestigious nursing shifts because of the way her anxiety and panic attacks resulted in multiple requests for medical leave. A jury could find that this violates the ADA and award Nola the pay she would have received between the time of her termination and the time of her trial, and either reinstatement to her position going forward, or a lump-sum amount equal to the pay that she would have received after the trial, had she been reinstated. Because Nola may have had a claim under the ADA and the Family and Medical Leave Act, she may also have a claim under the New York City Human Rights Law, which is even more liberal for employees in how it prohibits discrimination against employees with disabilities.
Cases like Nola’s are part of a wider trend in American society. Other courts have addressed claims, for example, that a more-qualified woman was replaced by a less-qualified male employee after the woman took a medical leave for surgery. In recent years, six times as many employees are claiming to have been discriminated or retaliated against for taking family or medical leave as compared to ten years ago. Employers have settled cases like these for almost $500 million, many times with employees securing a favorable result.
Even more cases about family and medical leave may be decided in the near future. The number of Americans affected by anxiety disorders is about 44 million. When the ADA was passed, there were an estimated 43 million Americans with physical or mental disabilities. That number has increased since then (1990) to almost 60 million today, or nearly one in five one in five Americans.
If you think that you might be the victim of discrimination relating to a disability or family or medical leave, you should speak to an attorney who can provide guidance on your specific case. With decades of experience litigating discrimination cases Leeds Brown Law, P.C., can help answer the following questions:
1. Did you experience a negative action in the workplace after your employer learned of your disability, such as termination, loss of benefits, suspension, transfer to a less prestigious or lower-paying position, refusal of a requested transfer to a more prestigious or higher-paying role, or major annoyances or harassing treatment?
2. Is your employer subjected to the Americans with Disabilities Act?
3. Do you experience difficulties with an important part of life such as walking, talking, socializing, working, hearing, seeing, lifting, sitting, breathing, caring for yourself, or learning new things?
4. Were you otherwise qualified to do the job, even if that required a reasonable accommodation in hours, tasks, positions, locations, seats, or other aspects of the job?
You have rights. Assert them. It’s important to note that it is unlawful for your employer to retaliate against you for complaining about workplace discrimination. Protect your employee rights by contacting a New York Employment Attorney today. Leeds Brown Law, P.C., is a pioneer in the practice of employment law. Call today for a free, confidential case evaluation at (516) 873-9550 or contact us via email.