Call it a missed opportunity. Call it a misunderstanding. Nancy Grozdanich-Lipinski did neither. She called her lawyer.
Grozdanich-Lipinski of Inver Grove Heights is suing her former employer, Delta Airlines, for violations of the ADA. She had been a Northwest Airlines technician when Northwest and Delta began merging their operations in 2008.
According to Grozdanich-Lipinski’s lawsuit, she received numerous safety and attendance awards and letters of recommendation despite medical problems.
In July 2007, Grozdanich-Lipinski injured her back on the job. Following several rounds of surgery and physical therapy, she returned to work with restrictions. Among them: no lifting anything heavier than 40 pounds. Her lawsuit says she told her boss about the restrictions and continued to perform her job satisfactorily.
Then in 2008, Grozdanich-Lipinski injured her neck. She underwent physical therapy, but continued to work and earn accolades from her supervisors. Doctors didn’t impose any additional work restrictions as a result of the neck injury.
In February 2009, Delta called in Grozdanich-Lipinski for a disability accommodation meeting. The airline told her she wouldn’t be able to continue working until she could meet the requirements listed in a new job description—including being able to push a cart weighing 50 pounds.
Grozdanich-Lipinski alleges she told Delta officials she thought she could do the job. But, her lawsuit says, Delta immediately escorted her off the property and told her to turn in her security badge. Delta placed her on a six-month medical leave of absence—and then terminated her when that leave expired.
She filed an EEOC complaint under the ADA and the Minnesota Human Rights Act.
That’s when Delta allegedly contacted Grozdanich-Lipinski, told her she had been improperly terminated and offered to rehire her if she found a job within her medical restrictions.
She’s not buying it, contending in her lawsuit that the move was part of “posturing” on Delta’s part. Her lawsuit seeks $150,000 in compensatory and punitive damages.
Note: The ADA requires employers to engage in an interactive process to determine what reasonable accommodations are available to disabled employees. From the description in Grozdanich-Lipinski’s suit, Delta didn’t opt for very much interaction.
Delta also made a key error by failing to explore accommodations as soon as it learned of Grozdanich-Lipinski’s medical restrictions. By the time it examined possible accommodations, Grozdanich-Lipinski had been performing the job for a year with medical restrictions in place.
Employers that discontinue or unilaterally alter accommodations don’t usually fare well in court. It’s hard to argue the employee can’t perform the job when she has already been doing so for a year.