An ex-employee, Darla Parker, filed suit on Monday in the Iowa District Court for Union County against her former employer, Greater Regional Health (GRH), and defendants Monte Neizel, Amy Rieck, Shari Mitchell, and Faith Hahesy. The complaint alleges that the defendants engaged in disability discrimination when they terminated the plaintiff.
The plaintiff began her employment with defendant Greater Regional Health (GRH) in 2006, working as a switchboard registration clerk. The plaintiff has lupus nephritis class III and V, which the complaint describes as an “autoimmune disorder affecting the kidneys, heart, skin, eyes, brain, and hands.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic began, the plaintiff began using her paid time off to quarantine due to her autoimmune disorder. She discussed her concerns about COVID-19 and her autoimmune disorder with defendant Hahesy and her assistant, stating that she was concerned about being around people.
According to the complaint, the plaintiff returned to work on April 2, 2020. When she returned, she was brought into a discussion regarding a HIPAA violation that occurred while she was using her paid time off. Specifically, she was asked if she had bullied another employee (Amelia Quick) into participating in a HIPAA violation.
On April 8, 2020, the plaintiff’s doctor provided the defendants with a letter that emphasized the plaintiff’s autoimmune disorder and requested leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). That same day, she was allegedly was granted the FMLA leave. The following day, defendants Rieck and Hahesy called the plaintiff to inform her that due to the aforementioned HIPAA violation, she would be receiving a three-day suspension, the complaint said.
Throughout her FMLA leave, the plaintiff was allegedly frequently contacted by GRH and questioned about her return date. The plaintiff contends that the calls coupled with the lack of her work being delegated to others put pressure on her to return to work, “despite paid time off that she has earned and could use to extend her period of leave during COVID-19.”
The plaintiff said she obtained a letter from a doctor that released her to return to work so long as proper safety precautions were followed. She spoke with defendant Hahesy about her safety concerns. The two concluded that the plaintiff would return to work primarily at the front desk as opposed to the audiology desk, the complaint said. Instead, she would devote about 2 hours of her day to audiology work. Hahesy stated, according to the complaint, that since the audiology duties would be divided between two departments, this arrangement was feasible.
The front desk placed the plaintiff within four feet of another employee and did not have any safety precautions, whereas her audiology desk had been isolated. When the plaintiff attempted to complete her audiology work, defendant Hahesy allegedly called her and ordered her to return to the front desk.
Upon returning to work, Parker apologized to Amelia Quick regarding the HIPAA violation, who assured her that she did not feel as though she had been bullied.
On June 8, 2020, Parker was searching for a specialty form in a co-worker’s desk when she found Protected Health Information that should have been kept in a more secure place. When the employee returned to her desk, Parker reminded her of this.
On June 15, 2020, defendants Rieck and Hahesy called Parker into a meeting where they informed her that Amelia Quick perceived their interaction about the HIPAA violation as hostile. They also questioned Parker about the protected health information that Parker had found in her co-worker’s drawer. The following day, defendant Rieck terminated Parker.
The plaintiff is adamant that she was retaliated against for having a disability and requesting accommodations that are afforded under the FMLA. The complaint cites counts of interference, retaliatory termination, and failure to accommodate. Parker is seeking favorable judgment on each count, damages for future lost wages and benefits as well as past and future emotional distress, litigation fees, and any other relief deemed equitable by the Court.
The plaintiff is represented by Babich Goldman, P.C.