Commission finds lab discriminated



AUGUSTA — The Maine Human Rights Commission has found there are reasonable grounds that The Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor discriminated against a Surry woman hired in 2013 as an animal care trainee.

Allison Woods filed her complaint with the commission in September 2014. The commission considered the complaint and delivered its finding at a meeting on Sept. 12.

Commissioners voted to find reasonable grounds that the lab discriminated against Woods on the basis of disability by denying a request for reasonable accommodation on the basis of her physical or mental disability in the terms and conditions of her employment.

The commission found against the complainant in two other allegations.

Commissioners found there were no reasonable grounds to believe the lab discriminated against Woods when it terminated her employment and no reasonable grounds that she was subjected to an illegal inquiry regarding her medical history.

According to the report by a commission investigator, Woods accepted the job at the lab in November 2013 and was informed that she had to undergo a physical with the lab’s physician assistant before she could start working. During her physical in December 2013, she reportedly disclosed that she had epilepsy. The physician assistant then said she would have to review Woods’ medical records and consult with a supervisor before the Surry woman could begin working.

Two weeks later, Woods was hired on a conditional basis for three months in the animal care room, with the provision she be revaluated. On Jan. 2, 2014, Woods had a seizure at work and was taken by ambulance to Mount Desert Island Hospital for treatment. Upon her return to the lab later that day, Woods was told she was not cleared medically to resume working and needed to consult with her neurologist, according to the report.

Woods’ neurologist concluded she was able to go back to work and reportedly wrote a letter clearing her to return, which was given to the lab. The lab then faxed the neurologist asking about Woods’ “ability to perform all essential functions of this job.” In reply, the doctor sent information regarding “possible triggers and restrictions,” the report states.

Woods met with the lab’s physician assistant on Jan. 17, 2014 and was told “that for her safety and the safety of others,” she was not cleared to return to work.

About four days later, Woods called the lab’s human resource director and was told she had been discharged because she could not be accommodated, the report continues. The director reportedly stated that Woods “was not able to do the job without restrictions and that there were no jobs available that fit her restrictions.”

In response to Woods allegations, the lab stated that Woods’ disclosure that she had epileptic seizures to the physician assistant was unsolicited and no further information was asked for.

Woods’ neurologist specifically stated that she had not been cleared to perform three of the essential functions of the animal care trainee job: climbing ladders, using computers and working alone, the lab claimed.

Consideration was made as to whether there was any type of reasonable accommodation to be made that would allow Woods to resume her job, but none was found, and Woods offered no solution, according to the report.

In addition, the human resources director reviewed Woods qualifications against all open positions but was unable to find a match. The director discussed the possibility of Woods working as a trainee in the operations department and learned she medically would be cleared for that job, but there were no openings.

In December 2014, Woods was offered a position as operations trainee but declined the offer, the lab contended.

The lab also argued it provides accommodations for a number of employees with disabilities, including one person with epilepsy.

 

Mark Good

Mark Good

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Mark Good

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