Have You Been Discriminated Against in the Workplace?

21 October 2014
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At-Will Employee or Victim of Unlawful Discrimination?

Employment discrimination can take on many different forms, from racism to sexism, from ageism to disability discrimination. One recent case that has drawn a lot of media attention is that of a 59-year old Rhode Island Blood Center employee who, after 21 years of service, was abruptly “let go” for leaving work 15 minutes early to drop off a loved one at the airport. Her case is now pending in federal court.

As an employee at-will (i.e. an employee who could be terminated by the employer at any time and for any reason), the employee in question ultimately was fired for leaving early without her employer’s permission. However, the facts and circumstances surrounding her termination suggest that she may not have been terminated for a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason of displaying a “lack of judgment.” Rather, she may have been the victim of unlawful discrimination and retaliation.

Apart from the fact that the employee was one of Rhode Island Blood Center’s oldest, highest paid phlebotomists (she received 5 weeks of vacation, family medical and dental benefits, and 401K contributions), she was diagnosed with Hepatitis C (a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act) and had taken intermittent unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to treat her health condition.

For years, the employee’s co-workers had no knowledge of her serious health condition and she continued to take all of the necessary precautions to guard against any risk of transmission. But in 2010, Rhode Island Blood Center medical director Carolyn Young “screamed at and humiliated” the employee, saying that she was a danger in the workplace and shouldn’t be working in her current occupation in the donor room.

The employee was then temporarily re-assigned to a clerical position without any clear evidence that she posed a safety risk to her co-workers or donors. After receiving an offensive holiday card and reporting the incident to her supervisor, the employee was called into a meeting with Human Resources and was informed that she made people feel “uncomfortable.” She was given a “final warning” that any future “lack of discretion” on her part would result in her termination. No prior discipline had been imposed under the employer’s progressive discipline policy.

Shortly after her meeting with Human Resources, the employee was terminated for leaving work 15 minutes early to pick up her daughter at the airport. She has since filed suit alleging that the Rhode Island Blood Center violated her rights under state and federal employment discrimination laws. She points to the fact that the Rhode Island Blood Center has since replaced her with a younger, lower paid employee and has terminated two other older, highly compensated employees.

In this case, there was evidence prior to and after the employee’s termination that suggested that Rhode Island Blood Center may have discriminated against her on the basis of her age and disability and may have retaliated against her for taking job-protected leave under the FMLA. However, many individuals who are subjected to similar inferior treatment in the workplace fail to recognize that the actions of their employer are not only wrong, they are illegal. Without the assistance of a trained employment law attorney, the employee in this case may not have recognized this critical distinction and taken legal action.

If you believe that you have been discriminated against by your employer in any way, the time to take action is now. Employees have a limited time to assert their legal rights.

Martineau, Davis & Associates has obtained large monetary settlements for clients who have been discriminated against and have negotiated substantial severance packages. We offer free initial consultations to anyone who feels that they have been subjected to discrimination or retaliation in the workplace. We welcome your call at 401-398-8333.

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