Trial date set in EEOC case against Advanced Home Care; Employee says she was fired after hospital stay

By Karen Kidd | Jul 17, 2018

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (Legal Newsline) – The trial date is set for next summer in the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission case against a North Carolina not-for-profit, hospital-affiliated company that has been in mediation for almost a month.

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (Legal Newsline) – The trial date is set for next summer in the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission case against a North Carolina not-for-profit, hospital-affiliated company that has been in mediation for almost a month.

The clerk of the court in U.S. District Court for North Carolina's Middle District in Winston-Salem signed the order June 27 appointing a mediator in the case against Advanced Home Care, which had been referred to mediation on May 25 pursuant to the court's rules.

Also on June 27, Magistrate Judge Joi Elizabeth Peake, on the bench in U.S. District Court for North Carolina's Middle District in Winston-Salem, signed orders granting in part a joint motion to amend discover and dispositive motion deadlines and approving a joint report entered May 24 and granting that a motion giving Advanced Home Care to until the middle of this month to respond to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission discovery requests. Those motions had been filed June 21.

The case was referred to mediation more than a month after Chief Judge Thomas D. Schroeder, also on the bench in U.S. District Court for North Carolina's Middle District in Winston-Salem, issued a memorandum and order denying Advanced Home Care's motion to dismiss the case.

The EEOC filed suit against Advanced Home Care about a year ago on behalf of a patient account representative Elizabeth Pennell in the nonprofit's call support center in High Point, North Carolina, according to an EEOC press release at the time. The EEOC claims Advanced Home Care discriminated against a Pennell, who suffers from asthma, when the nonprofit failed to accommodate her and then fired her following her hospitalization in August 2015 when she was diagnosed with chronic bronchitis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

After she returned from medical leave, Pennell she asked her supervisor "on at least three separate occasions" to be allowed to telework, or work from home, as an accommodation for her disability so she could avoid fragrances, scents and odors that could aggravate her respiratory conditions, the press release said. 

"By teleworking, Pennell would be protected from actual and potential respiratory irritants at that facility," the press release said.

Her requests for accommodation were not granted, she took leave as allowed under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) "because she could not work at that facility" and she was fired the following January after her leave expired, the press release said.

The EEOC alleges Advanced Home Care violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and filed its lawsuit after attempts at a pre-litigation settlement failed. The EEOC is asking for back pay and compensatory and punitive damages, in addition to injunctive relief.

In his memorandum and order denying Advanced Home Care's motion to dismiss the case, Schroeder said the EEOC's complaint includes a wrongful discharge claim strong enough to a motion to dismiss. 

"It alleges that Pennell had received a satisfactory performance review, was discharged, had requested accommodations on several occasions before her discharge but received no meaningful response, and was discharged upon the expiration of her FMLA leave under circumstances giving rise to a reasonable inference it was because of her disability," Schroeder said in his memorandum and order.

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U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina Winston-Salem Division U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

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