San Francisco, CA (Law Firm Newswire) November 16, 2017 - A former Save Mart Supermarkets employee who was fired just before celebrating her 15-year anniversary at the company was awarded more than $500,000 in a disability discrimination and wrongful termination lawsuit.
Plaintiff Keri Sullivan was fired for “job abandonment” while she was on medical leave seeking treatment for a disabling health condition caused by a difficult pregnancy and a new lupus diagnosis. The lawsuit was filed in San Mateo Superior Court in California.
The jury decided that Save Mart failed to discuss the possibility of providing Sullivan with reasonable accommodation for her disability as required by the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”). The law requires employers to participate in a timely, good faith interactive process with a disabled employee in order to determine reasonable accommodations that would allow the person to perform their essential job duties.
Sullivan was represented by attorneys Jason Erlich of McCormack and Erlich, a San Francisco-based employment law firm, in association with Michael J. DePaul from Top DePaul LLP, a civil rights law firm based in Oakland.
“Save Mart intentionally violated the FEHA when it refused to have a conversation with Ms. Sullivan to explore possible options that would allow her to continue working,” commented Erlich. “Save Mart failed to make reasonable accommodations such as extending her medical leave of absence and holding her job open until her return.”
According to the lawsuit, Sullivan regularly communicated with her store manager during her extended leave of absence. In October 2014, she told him that she needed some extra leave while undergoing additional medical treatment. Sullivan also clearly stated her desire to return to work and said that she had a return-to-work-date.
Less than two weeks later, Save Mart sent Sullivan a 72-hour notice letter to the wrong address. After the letter came back as undeliverable, the company mailed a termination letter to the same incorrect address. It was only when Sullivan called her store manager in December 2014 that she found out she was fired.
Sullivan immediately took numerous steps to save her job such as contacting HR and providing additional medical documents that verified her need for a short medical leave extension. However, the lawsuit said Save Mart ignored her complaints and efforts to gain reinstatement.
Despite having all of Sullivan’s up-to-date contact information, Save Mart made no effort to get in touch with her to engage in a good faith interactive process or request additional medical documentation before firing her for job abandonment and ending her career. Save Mart later acknowledged that Sullivan was entitled to one year of medical leave and admitted that the company could have easily extended it.
“We always saw this as a case about the value of working moms and the families they support,” commented attorney DePaul. “At the end of the day, Keri really taught us the meaning of courage, and it’s been an honor to represent her.”
Sullivan was awarded $578,425 for past and future economic losses, emotional distress and future medical expenses. Sullivan will also be seeking her attorneys’ fees and legal costs, which she is entitled to recover under FEHA.
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