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MERG files disability discrimination lawsuit against MaineHealth

The Maine Employee Rights Group (MERG) has filed a disability discrimination lawsuit against MaineHealth alleging that it discriminated against MERG client Susan Kendrick, a Registered Nurse (RN) who works for MaineHealth.

Ms. Kendrick previously worked in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Maine Medical Center where she cared for ill and premature newborn infants.  In early 2018, MaineHealth removed Ms. Kendrick from the NICU because of her disability and it reassigned her to a lower paying job outside of Maine Medical Center.  (MaineHealth is the parent company of Maine Medical Center.)

Ms. Kendrick’s disability is reactive airway dysfunction syndrome.  Due to her disability, when she is exposed to perfume, she suffers from symptoms such as coughing, respiratory irritation, shortness of breath, and chest tightness. Ms. Kendrick’s disability should not be a barrier to her employment with MaineHealth because MaineHealth has a Fragrance-Free Policy which prohibits fragrances of any kind.  According to MaineHealth, it adopted this policy specifically to protect patients, visitors, and staff with conditions like Ms. Kendrick’s.

Even though MaineHealth has a Fragrance-Free Policy, it refused to take some reasonable steps to enforce and effectuate the policy that Ms. Kendrick requested.  Among other things, Ms. Kendrick asked MaineHealth to do more to educate and inform people about the policy so that fewer people would violate it.  For example, visitors to the NICU must pass by a security desk and Ms. Kendrick asked if employees at the security desk could inform visitors about the Fragrance-Free Policy if they smelled perfume on the visitors.  Ms. Kendrick asked for better enforcement of the Fragrance-Free Policy not just for her own sake but also for the sake of others, including the infants she cared for in the NICU who often have breathing problems.  MaineHealth refused to take the steps that Ms. Kendrick requested.  Consequently, while she worked in the NICU, Ms. Kendrick periodically suffered exposures to perfume which triggered her symptoms.

After MaineHealth denied Ms. Kendrick’s requests to improve its enforcement of the Fragrance-Free Policy, MaineHealth decided to remove Ms. Kendrick from the NICU because of her disability.  MaineHealth removed Ms. Kendrick from the NICU against her wishes and reassigned her to a different worksite, outside of Maine Medical Center, because it claimed that she would likely suffer fewer perfume exposures there.  However, since her reassignment, Ms. Kendrick has suffered more frequent exposures to perfume because MaineHealth has not taken sufficient steps to enforce and effectuate its Fragrance-Free policy in this new workplace either.

Since her reassignment, Ms. Kendrick has applied for a variety of positions in the NICU and elsewhere within Maine Medical Center but MaineHealth has refused to consider her for these positions because of her disability.  Among other forms of relief, MERG will be asking the court to order MaineHealth to reinstate Ms. Kendrick to her position in the NICU.

State and federal disability discrimination laws not only prohibit employers from taking adverse actions against an employee because she has a disability but they also require employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees.  Ms. Kendrick alleges that MaineHealth discriminated against her when it removed her from the NICU and when it refused to consider her for other positions in Maine Medical Center.  Ms. Kendrick also alleges that MaineHealth failed to provide her with reasonable accommodations when it denied her requests for better enforcement of the Fragrance-Free Policy.