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An assistant beautician at a county-owned nursing home alleged that her supervisor harassed her throughout the course of her seven years of employment, repeatedly insulting and humiliating her in front of the nursing home residents and employees. She claimed that her supervisor was overly critical of her work, called her “crazy” and “dumb,”and frequently told her that she should be fired and would not be employable ata “real salon.”
The employee reported her supervisor’s conduct to higher-level managers, whom she claimed failed to address the harassment and began subjecting her to similar behavior. The employee filed union grievances against the supervisor for harassment, hostile work conditions, and false accusations of poor performance. She took paid disability-related medical leave for extreme anxiety and depression for several weeks in 2011, and then sent a letter to the county conditioning her return to work on a change in her scheduled hours and a different supervisor. The county responded that her request for another supervisor was not feasible because Cedar Haven only employed one beautician supervisor. Citing the county’s failure to accommodate her proposed restrictions, the employee did not return to work when her leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act expired. She was subsequently fired and filed suit against the county for discrimination.
The court found that the employee’s Section 1983 claim, which alleged that she had been retaliated against for complaining of her supervisor’s harassment in violation of her right to free speech, must fail because her underlying actions did not involve matters of public concern.
Further, none of the alleged harassment was related to a protected status, the court noted. “Bullying that is unrelated to an employee’s protected status does not constitute a violation of the employee’s constitutional rights simply because it occurs in the workplace,” the court said.
Turning to the employee’s Americans with Disabilities Act claim, under which she offered to return to work only on the condition that she would no longer be required to report to her supervisor, the court found such an accommodation to be unreasonable as a matter of law.
The court cited precedent in which the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals addressed whether an employee’s request to be transferred away from individuals who cause him prolonged and inordinate stress was a reasonable proposed accommodation. The 3rd Circuit, noting that the plaintiff essentially was asking the court “to establish the conditions of his employment, most notably, with whom he will work,” had determined that the proposed accommodation was unreasonable as a matter of law.
“It therefore follows that a request to return to work under a different supervisor is likewise unreasonable,” the district court found. “Further, the county did not have a duty to engage in discussions with plaintiff regarding such a clearly unreasonable proposed accommodation, particularly since she made it clear that her willingness to return to work was conditioned on the county’s compliance with her request.”
The court, finding that the employee was attempting to manufacture discrimination and retaliation claims out of an interpersonal dispute with her supervisor unrelated to any alleged protected activities or statuses, dismissed the complaint.
Dart v. County of Lebanon, Cedar Haven Nursing Home, M.D. Pa., Civ. No. 13-CV-02930 (Sept. 23, 2014).
Rosemarie Lally, J.D., is a freelance legal writer and editor based in Washington, D.C.
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