A former Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice employee is claiming that she was wrongfully terminated by the firm in 2011.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a lawsuit [PDF] in North Carolina federal court on Wednesday on behalf of Charlesetta Jennings, a former office assistant in the Winston-Salem headquarters of Womble Carlyle. The suit claims Jennings was dismissed by the firm in August 2011 because a disability she developed as a result of previous breast cancer treatments prevented her from lifting heavy objects.
According to the complaint, Jennings developed lymphedema, a condition that can be brought on by cancer treatment and which causes chronic swelling throughout the body‚ in November 2009 while she was working for Womble Carlyle. (She had been diagnosed with and treated for breast cancer the previous year.) In June 2010, Jennings suffered from swelling in several parts of her body as a result of lifting boxes, which led her to obtain a doctor’s note stating that she could not lift more than 10 pounds due to her condition and medical history.
The suit goes on to claim that Womble Carlyle told Jennings that her job required her to be able to “lift or move items up to 75 pounds, and to be able to push or pull machines on wheels weighing up to 700 pounds.” After roughly seven months of accommodating her condition through such methods as allowing her to use carts to transport boxes of documents, the firm’s human resources director allegedly “expressed concern that Jennings would not be able to perform the essential functions of her job,” and asked that she provide an updated doctor’s note. In February 2011, Jennings returned with a new doctor’s note stating that she could lift up to 20 pounds.
Jennings was placed on disability leave that same month, according to the complaint, and the firm terminated her in August 2011 after telling her that there were no vacant positions she could fill while still adhering to the lifting restrictions imposed by her doctor.
The EEOC and Jennings are seeking a court-ordered injunction on the firm’s hiring practices and equal employment policies, as well as punitive damages and compensation for various losses incurred as a result of Jennings’s termination. The suit claims Womble Carlyle “failed to provide Jennings with a reasonable accommodation for her disability” and violated the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 by dismissing her because of her disability.
“We do not believe it would be appropriate to comment on Ms. Jennings’s medical condition or the claim at this time,” Womble Carlyle chairman Keith Vaughan said in a statement to The Am Law Daily.
EEOC attorney Darryl Edwards is lead attorney for the plaintiff. When reached by The Am Law Daily, Edwards said that Womble Carlyle would likely have until March 18 to officially respond to the suit in court.