New Boss Refused to Accommodate, Fired Director Claims
LOS ANGELES (CN) – A new boss refused disability accommodations for a director's back and neck problems, the fired employee claims in Los Angeles County Superior Court.
Vanessa Marie Blanco sued Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc., for disability discrimination, retaliation, violation of the California Family Rights Act, wrongful termination, failure to prevent and/or remedy discrimination and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
According to Blanco’s lawsuit, she had worked at Kaiser since 2000 and received several promotions. Beginning in 2012 she worked as the Director of National Environmentally Preferable Purchasing, and since then had received positive performance reviews, it says. Because of the nationwide scope of Blanco’s job, she worked from home most of the time, it says.
In 2016 Blanco, then 42, took a pregnancy leave and gave birth to a daughter, according to the complaint. The pregnancy left her with back and neck injuries requiring physical therapy, and her daughter had medical conditions as well, according to the complaint.
When Blanco returned to work in Jan. 2017, a new manager “decided to gradually take away her work from home job,” the complaint states.
Blanco’s new manager sent her an e-mail listing reasons she felt Blanco “needed to be in the office a few days a week, including to (i) allow ‘face-time’ with stakeholders, (ii) ensure ‘the team’ was ‘on the ground’ to address things that come up ‘in the moment,’ and (iii) ensure equity among team members (others of whom were apparently also required to work in an office,” the complaint states. (Parentheses in complaint.)
“However, these stated reasons for needing Ms. Blanco to work in-office were not supported by the realities of the job,” the complaint states. Blanco rarely interacted with stakeholders face-to-face in her work, and when she did, meetings were scheduled for that purpose, she says. Furthermore, stakeholders were all over the country, not at a specific location, she says.
“Finally, with regard to ensuring ‘equity among team members,’ Ms. Blanco was the only director in the department and the only one in her position, so ensuring equity between her and other employees who had lower seniority and different responsibilities simply did not make sense,” the complaint states.
For slightly over a year, Blanco and her manager negotiated new office schedules which the manager later decided needed to be changed, according to the complaint. Despite doctors’ restrictions requiring Blanco to attend physical therapy and minimize travel, Blanco’s manager gave her a bad performance review for 2017, according to the complaint.
“On March 14, 2018, Kaiser withdrew the accommodations that were given to Ms. Blanco. She was involuntarily forced on a medical leave. Kaiser has a one-year medical leave allowance for their employees. They knew by placing her on leave, and refusing to accommodate her, that she would ultimately be fired under the ruse of an expiration of her medical leave. The problem is that she could work with accommodation,” the complaint states.
“During the intervening year, Kaiser continued to refuse to allow Ms. Blanco to return to work. No discussion was had with her to explore accommodations other than putting her on a forced medical leave, nor was there a legitimate explanation of why Kaiser could not accommodate her at that time,” the complaint continues.
“Transparently, on March 4, 2019, Ms. Blanco was terminated while she was still on leave, on the basis that she had exceeded the company’s general 12-month leave maximum,” it states.
Vanessa Marie Blanco seeks compensatory and punitive damages, interest, statutory and civil penalties, costs and reinstatement. She is represented by Jeffrey A. Rager, James Y. Yoon and Ashely J. Garay of The Rager Law Firm in Torrance.