BANGOR — A former Mount Desert Island Hospital employee has filed a lawsuit in federal court claiming the hospital failed to accommodate her disability stemming from medical issues, and retaliated against her for using the Family Medical Leave Act.
Cynthia Thurston was working as a radiological technologist and laboratory technician at the Community Health Center in Southwest Harbor when she went on medical leave in July of 2015 for medical issues, including Crohn’s disease and chronic pain, according to court documents. She was unable to return to work in October, according to attorneys Chad Hansen and Peter Thompson of the Maine Employee Rights Group, “due to MDIH’s refusal to provide her with reasonable accommodations for the limitations caused by her disabilities.”
Thurston filed disability discrimination charges with the Maine Human Rights Commission (HRC), which issued a notice of right to sue in October 2016 without making any determination on the merits of the complaint. When the HRC issues such a letter, it administratively dismisses the complaint and stops any investigation. The federal complaint, filed Oct. 28, 2016, requests a jury trial.
The complaint alleges that MDIH reorganized the department Thurston had been part of while she was out on leave. Her new job required some shifts at the hospital in Bar Harbor and some night and weekend work, which were a burden because she needed full weekends to recover from weekly injections, according to her lawyers.
“My job is very important to me,” Thurston wrote in an email to supervisors included in court documents. “I have noted the seriousness of my absences and will improve upon this … I try hard every day to help my co-workers as well as managers and doctors. This has in no way been reflected in my evaluation, and I would like to see some sort of correction to reflect all my hard work.”
Attorney James Erwin of Pierce Atwood, representing MDIH, said in a response that Thurston’s health issues do not qualify for disability protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act or the Maine Human Rights Act. “All actions taken by [MDIH] were for legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons and without regard to any unlawful reason,” Erwin wrote.