Kaiser Forces Out Disabled Project Manager, Suit Claims
LOS ANGELES (CN) – Kaiser fired a project manager rather than engage in an interactive process and provide accommodations for his disability, according to a complaint filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court.
Lance Payne sued Kaiser Foundation Hospitals, Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc. and The Permanente Medical Group, Inc. for wrongful termination, disability discrimination, failure to accommodate disability, failure to engage in the interactive process, retaliation, failure to prevent discrimination, violation of the Family Rights Act, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Payne says he started working for Kaiser as an Information Technology Project Manager Lead II in December 2015, placed through a staffing agency. In September 2016, Kaiser hired him directly and promoted him to Information Technology Project Manager Lead III, according to the action.
During his employment with Kaiser, Payne managed more than 100 projects at various medical centers owned by Kaiser. He had “exemplary reviews for his performance and received a promotion, increase in salary, additional responsibilities and praise for his work,” the suit states.
At his initial hiring, he informed Kaiser defendants of his degenerative disc disease in his back, which sometimes caused debilitating pain, and provided documentation of his disability and request for accommodation of an ergonomic office chair, the complaint claims.
After a couple of months, he was finally provided with the adjustable chair and a height-adjustable desk, but when he relocated to a different project in a different city, it took six months for Kaiser to provide the chair and desk, according to the action.
Payne says he also requested to sit for 10 to 15 minutes after standing for an hour or more, and to be allowed to stand and stretch his back after prolonged periods of sitting. “Defendants initially resisted plaintiff’s requests for these accommodations but eventually conceded,” the suit states.
However, beginning in October 2017, defendants “started reprimanding plaintiff and writing him up for issues that were unsubstantiated or unwarranted,” the complaint claims.
In January 2018, Payne says his new manager, Irv Hoff, increased the level of harassment and retaliatory conduct by overwhelming him with projects without providing necessary assistance and manpower to carry out the assignments in an effort to force him to resign, the action alleges.
Payne says that in March 2018, Hoff relocated his deck and chair to the opposite end of the campus from other team project members Payne had to work with on a daily basis despite Payne’s complaints. The 10 minute walk three to four times a day “exacerbated his existing back pain and issues associated with his adjustment disorder,” the suit states.
Adjustment disorder occurs in response to “stressful life events, serious physical illness, or possibility of serious illness,” according to an article posted in the National Institutes of Health U.S. National Library of Medicine. “When coping mechanisms fail to ameliorate stress effectively, adjustment disorder is precipitated,” the article states, and the diagnosis “carries a significant rate of morbidity.”
In September 2018, Payne was put on a three-month Performance Improvement Plan, even though Kaiser’s policy specifies that the initial step would be a Corrective Action Plan, the suit states.
The “barrage of harassment and retaliatory conduct” resulted in Payne being forced to take medical leave on Oct. 5 while he was working on the improvement plan. Payne completed the improvement plan and returned to work.
He was released to return to work on Dec. 26. On his first day back, he was placed on administrative leave “because of his failure to complete the PIP [Performance Improvement Plan] while he had been on approved medical leave,” the suit states. He was fired on Jan. 18, 2019, for “alleged performance related issues.”
Payne says he was fired due to his disability, his requests for accommodation, for taking medical leave, and because he complained about discrimination and retaliation.
Payne seeks compensatory damages for mental and emotional distress, special, general and punitive damages, medical and related expenses, lost earnings and related expenses, interest and legal costs.
Payne is represented by Jay S. Rothman and O. David Natanzi of Jay S. Rothman & Associates in Woodland Hills, California.