Earlier this month the U.S. District Court of Maine found that a jury could reasonably hold Rumford Hospital liable for disability discrimination and retaliation against Catherine LaFlamme. The Maine Employee Rights Group (MERG) represents Ms. LaFlamme in this case.
Ms. LaFlamme worked for Rumford Hospital as a nurse. In July 2011 she sustained an injury to her lower back which her doctors diagnosed as a herniated disc. Ms. LaFlamme was hospitalized for a period of time due to the disc herniation and she underwent surgery. Because of the herniated disc, Ms. LaFlamme was unable to do her nursing job at Rumford Hospital and she went out on an extended medical leave.
Ms. LaFlamme remained out on medical leave for the remainder of 2011 and all of 2012. During that extended leave, she kept in touch with Rumford Hospital and communicated with them about her recovery. She wanted to return to work there when she was again capable of working. In November 2012, Ms. LaFlamme informed Rumford Hospital that she was getting close to being able to return to work. She told them that she hoped to be back in 30 – 60 days.
In December 2012, Rumford Hospital sent Ms. LaFlamme a letter terminating her employment because she had been unavailable to work. Shortly after Ms. LaFlamme received the termination letter, she emailed Rumford Hospital and asked that they reverse their decision to terminate her because she was likely going to be able to return to work in January 2013. Rumford Hospital refused to reverse the decision. Ms. LaFlamme’s doctor cleared her to work in January 2013 and she applied for her old position but Rumford Hospital refused to rehire her.
One requirement of both Maine and federal disability discrimination laws is that employers must provide qualified disabled employees with reasonable accommodations that enable them to remain employed. One type of reasonable accommodation is medical leave, which is the accommodation that Ms. LaFlamme needed.
In its ruling, the Court adopted the reasoning of a Magistrate Judge who submitted a recommended decision to the Court. In that recommended decision, the Magistrate Judge explained how a jury could reasonably find that Rumford Hospital failed to provide Ms. LaFlamme with the reasonable accommodation of medical leave that she needed because of her disability (herniated disc). The Magistrate Judge also explained how a jury could reasonably find that Rumford Hospital discriminated against Ms. LaFlamme because of her disability when it fired her because of her need for medical leave. Finally, the Magistrate Judge explained how a jury could reasonably find that Rumford Hospital retaliated against Ms. LaFlamme because she requested medical leave as a reasonable accommodation for her disability.
Ms. LaFlamme is one of many disabled Mainers who MERG has represented throughout the years. If you are facing a situation similar to Ms. LaFlamme’s—where your employer is unwilling to provide you a reasonable accommodation for a disability—contact MERG to learn more about your rights.