IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF GEORGIA
GAINESVILLE DIVISION

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,

Plaintiff,

v.

LANIER TECHNICAL COLLEGE,

Defendant.

 

Civil Action No. 2:19-cv-00253-RWS-JCF

JURY TRIAL DEMANDED

 

COMPLAINT

    Plaintiff United States of America, respectfully alleges:

  1. This action is brought by the United States against Defendant Lanier Technical College in Georgia, a unit of the Technical College System of Georgia, to enforce the statutory and regulatory provisions of Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12111–12117, as amended, which incorporates, through 42 U.S.C. § 12117(a), the powers, remedies, and procedures set forth in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e–2000e-17.
  2. Defendant discriminated against the Complainant on the basis of disability with regard to discharge, compensation, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of her employment, in violation of Title I of the ADA and its implementing regulation.
  3. Specifically, Defendant removed the Complainant from the work schedule for an entire school semester, thus reducing her hours and compensation to zero, because of her multiple sclerosis.  In doing so, Defendant also terminated the Complainant because of her disability.

JURISDICTION AND VENUE

  1. This Court has jurisdiction of this action under 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e‑5(f) and 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1345.
  2. This Court has authority to grant a declaratory judgment pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 2201 and 2202, and authority to grant equitable relief and monetary damages pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 12117 and 42 U.S.C. § 1981a.
  3. Venue is proper in this judicial district under 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-5(f).  Venue is also appropriate pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1391, because Defendant is located in this judicial district and a substantial part of the events or omissions giving rise to the claims occurred in this judicial district.

PARTIES

  1. Plaintiff is the United States of America.
  2. Defendant is Lanier Technical College, a unit of the Technical College System of Georgia.  Defendant is a state government entity.
  3. Defendant is a person within the meaning of 42 U.S.C. § 12111(7) and § 2000e(a), and 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(c); an employer within the meaning of 42 U.S.C. § 12111(5), § 2000e(b), and § 2000ff(2)(B), and 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(e); and a covered entity within the meaning of 42 U.S.C. § 12111(2) and 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(b).
  4. The Complainant is an individual with a disability because she has multiple sclerosis, a physical impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, including neurological function and the operation of the central nervous system, which are major bodily functions; and/or because she was regarded as having such an impairment.  42 U.S.C. § 12102; 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2.

FACTUAL ALLEGATIONS

  1. Lanier Technical College employed the Complainant as a part-time emergency medical technician (EMT) lab assistant for over three years. 
  2. The Complainant was an at-will employee at Lanier and was compensated at a rate of $18.00 per hour prior to her termination.  She typically worked four-hour shifts.  Her total hours and compensation varied over the three-plus years of her employment.  
  3. The essential functions of the job were to assist instructors in the classroom and in the lab, and perform “check offs” to authorize and certify that the students mastered particular technical competencies (e.g., properly taking blood pressure, starting a patient’s I.V., assessing a patient’s vital signs). 
  4. In addition to her employment with Defendant, the Complainant worked as a paramedic for an unrelated employer.  She continued to work as a full-time paramedic for nearly three years after Defendant terminated her employment as a part-time lab assistant.
  5. The Complainant was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in 2010, less than a year into her employment with Defendant.  Defendant knew or should have known that the Complainant has MS.
  6. Among others, the Complainant notified the Director of the Lanier Paramedicine Technology (PMT) Department, Sam Stone, of her condition shortly after her diagnosis.  He discussed her MS and treatment with her over the course of her employment with Defendant.
  7. The Complainant did not require any reasonable accommodations for her disability.
  8. At all times relevant to this action, the Complainant was qualified to perform the essential functions of the part-time lab assistant job at Lanier, and did so successfully until Defendant discharged her or otherwise altered her compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment.
  9. In 2012, the Complainant assisted with classes and labs taught by Instructor Andy Booth.
  10. Instructor Booth managed the work schedule for all the part-time EMT lab assistants who assisted with his classes, including the Complainant, and had the authority to remove lab assistants from any shifts they requested.  Director Stone then completed a final review of the semester and approved the schedule and any changes to it.
  11. During the summer of 2012, the Complainant had to miss her assigned workdays on two or three occasions due to her MS and treatment for it.  She was also on disability leave from her paramedic job for a period during that summer, returning to work full-time in early August.
  12. On August 30, 2012, Instructor Booth sent an email to lab assistants, including the Complainant, requesting that lab assistants sign up for open shifts on the work schedule, as he was “still short on help.”  The schedule with available shifts was posted for September through December 2012.
  13. That same day, the Complainant signed up for seven or eight four-hour shifts over the course of the fall semester.  The Complainant emailed Instructor Booth the evening of August 30 to inform him of this.  In her email, she indicated that she was no longer on disability leave from her other job.
  14. Two weeks later, on September 12, 2012, Defendant removed the Complainant from the entire fall semester schedule.  Instructor Booth issued written instructions to remove the Complainant from the schedule, and Director Stone approved the decision.  
  15. Instructor Booth’s September 12 email instructions to his assistant provided a link to the online work schedule for the lab assistants and stated:  “Any day you see [the Complainant], just take her off.”  Director Stone was copied on this email.
  16. That same day, Director Stone replied to Instructor Booth’s email, stating that he had reviewed all of the dates up to December and approved the schedule.
  17. Defendant knew that, by removing the Complainant from the schedule, Defendant was terminating the Complainant’s employment with Lanier.
  18. When the Complainant realized that someone removed her from the schedule for the entire semester, she contacted Instructor Booth.  He told the Complainant, by text message, that it was Director Stone’s decision and that Director Stone wanted to give the Complainant “some time to heal.”  Instructor Booth also stated that Director Stone seemed upset about the Complainant missing a few days in the summer due to her MS.  Instructor Booth then directed the Complainant to speak to Director Stone.  He did not offer to reinstate her for any of the days she signed up for or for any future dates.
  19. Thereafter, on September 26, 2012, the Complainant contacted Director Stone by email.  In her email, she stated:  “[Instructor Booth] said you were managing the schedule and he said that you felt it was best if I had some time to heal.  I appreciate your concern as I know you have been very concerned with my struggle with MS.  I know that I did miss a couple class days over the course of the summer due to medical issues but I do feel I am OK.” 
  20. In response to the Complainant’s September 26 email, Director Stone stated:  “[Instructor Booth] is correct.”  Director Stone’s email, among other things, also confirmed that he was concerned with the Complainant’s health and offered to discuss further with her in private.  He did not offer to reinstate her for any of the days she signed up for or for any future dates.
  21. Later that day, the Complainant called Director Stone.  On the call, Director Stone expressed concern about legal and liability issues and whether the Complainant was fit to work because of her MS.  He said that he, as the Department Director, had to be concerned about her health and medical issues, because a student could challenge a grade on the basis that her MS made her unfit to evaluate students.  Director Stone also referenced a couple days that the Complainant missed work due to her MS during the summer, and stated that she was less reliable than other lab assistants were at that point.  He did not offer to reinstate her for any of the days she signed up for or for any future dates.
  22. Approximately six months later, Defendant removed the Complainant from the payroll and changed her payroll status to “terminated.”
  23. The Complainant suffered substantial emotional distress and pain and suffering because of Defendant’s actions.
  24. On September 26, 2012, the Complainant filed a timely charge of discrimination with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), alleging that Defendant terminated her because of her disability in violation of the ADA.
  25. Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 2000e‑5, incorporated by reference in 42 U.S.C. § 12117(a), the EEOC investigated the Complainant’s charge and found reasonable cause to believe that Defendant discriminated against the Complainant on the basis of disability, in violation of the ADA.  After conciliation failed, the EEOC referred the charge to the United States Department of Justice.
  26. Plaintiff has performed all conditions precedent to the filing of this action.

CAUSES OF ACTION
Count I – Reduction in Hours & Loss of Pay

  1. The allegations of the foregoing paragraphs are hereby re-alleged and incorporated. 
  2. Title I of the ADA prohibits covered entities from discriminating against a qualified individual on the basis of disability in regard to job application procedures, the hiring, advancement, or discharge of employees, employee compensation, job training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment.  42 U.S.C. § 12112(a); 29 C.F.R. § 1630.4. 
  3. Defendant discriminated against the Complainant on the basis of disability by removing the Complainant from the lab assistant work schedule for a semester and reducing her work hours and compensation to zero.  42 U.S.C. §§ 12102, 12111, 12112; 29 C.F.R. §§ 1630.2, 1630.4.
  4. Because of Defendant’s discriminatory conduct, the Complainant suffered significant monetary loss, including loss of earnings and other benefits; lost opportunities for advancement; and severe emotional pain, suffering, and other nonpecuniary losses.

Count II – Termination

  1. The allegations of the foregoing paragraphs are hereby re-alleged and incorporated. 
  2. Title I of the ADA prohibits covered entities from discriminating against a qualified individual on the basis of disability in regard to job application procedures, the hiring, advancement, or discharge of employees, employee compensation, job training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment.  42 U.S.C. § 12112(a); 29 C.F.R. § 1630.4. 
  3. Defendant discriminated against the Complainant by terminating her on the basis of disability.  42 U.S.C. §§ 12102, 12111, 12112; 29 C.F.R. §§ 1630.2, 1630.4.
  4. Because of Defendant’s discriminatory conduct, the Complainant suffered significant monetary loss, including loss of earnings and other benefits; lost opportunities for advancement; and severe emotional pain, suffering, and other nonpecuniary losses.

PRAYER FOR RELIEF

WHEREFORE, the United States prays that the Court grant the following relief:

  1. Grant judgment in favor of the United States and declare that Defendant has violated Title I of the ADA, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12111-12117, and its accompanying regulation;
  2. Enjoin Defendant and its agents, employees, successors, and all persons in active concert or participation with it, from engaging in discriminatory employment policies and practices that violate Title I of the ADA;
  3. Require Defendant to modify its policies, practices, and procedures as necessary to bring its employment practices into compliance with Title I of the ADA and its implementing   regulation;
  4. Order Defendant to train its supervisors and human resource staff regarding the requirements of Title I of the ADA;
  5. Award all appropriate monetary relief to the Complainant for any loss suffered as a result of the discrimination alleged in this Complaint, including:
    1. back pay with interest;
    2. the value of any lost benefits with interest;
    3. compensatory damages, including damages for emotional distress, for injuries suffered as a result of Defendant’s failure to comply with the requirements of Title I of the ADA pursuant to and within the statutory limitations of Section 102 of the Civil Rights Act of 1991, 42 U.S.C. § 1981a; and
  6. Order such other appropriate relief as the interests of justice require.

Jury Demand

The United States hereby demands a jury trial pursuant to Rule 38 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and Section 102 of the Civil Rights Act of 1991, 42 U.S.C. § 1981a.

Date: November 4, 2019

 

By:

/s/ Byung J. Pak
BYUNG J. PAK
United States Attorney
Northern District of Georgia

/s/ Tiffany R. Johnson
TIFFANY R. JOHNSON
Assistant United States Attorney
Richard B. Russell Federal Building
75 Ted Turner Drive SW, Suite 600
Atlanta, GA 30303
(404) 581-6000
Tiffany.Johnson2@usdoj.gov

Counsel for Plaintiff United States

Respectfully submitted,

 

 

/s/ Eric S. Dreiband
ERIC S. DREIBAND
Assistant Attorney General
Civil Rights Division

CYNTHIA McKNIGHT
Deputy Assistant Attorney General
Civil Rights Division

REBECCA B. BOND
Chief
KATHLEEN P. WOLFE
Special Litigation Counsel
JENNIFER MCDANNELL
Deputy Chief
Disability Rights Section

/s/ Megan E. Schuller
MEGAN E. SCHULLER
Trial Attorney
United States Department of Justice
Civil Rights Division
Disability Rights Section
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
New York Avenue Building, 4th Floor
Washington, DC 20530
(202) 305-0170
Megan.Schuller@usdoj.gov