Tuesday, June 02, 2009

More On Penn State's Legal Expenses: John R. Hancock v. The Pennsylvania State University

Here's a bit more information on the lawsuit filed by John R. Hancock against Penn State in October of 2005 which I mentioned in my last post.  Hancock, a maintenance worker, was fired by Penn State. He claimed  that it was because of his disability. 

Here are the details from the complaint which was filed in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.
Penn State hired John R. Hancock in 1993.  Mr. Hancock worked for Penn  State in the position of Maintenance Worker Utility Grade 9 for nine years, from July  1995 through May 5, 2004, when Penn State terminated his employment.   

In Fall of 2003, Mr. Hancock was diagnosed with terminal illness due to  cirrhosis of the liver.

From the Fall of 2003 to the time of his termination, Mr. Hancock’s medical  condition progressively worsened.  During this period, Mr. Hancock’s illness impaired  his major life activities, including his ability to walk and lift, his control over his bodily  functions, and his short-term memory.  It has also affected his equilibrium and impaired  his ability to eat a normal diet and caused him to suffer from extreme fatigue.

Since early November 2003, Penn State has been aware of Mr. Hancock’s  medical condition.  At that time, Mr. Hancock’s wife advised his then-direct supervisor, Mark Bigelow, as well as Human Resource Coordinator Susan Rutan, of Mr. Hancock’s illness.  

In the Winter of 2004, despite knowledge of Mr. Hancock’s disability, Penn  State required Mr. Hancock to perform more taxing duties than he had previously  performed.  Previously, three employees had been assigned the task of cleaning the power plant area; Penn State now required Mr. Hancock and a seventy-year old co- worker to clean the entire area.  At one point, for a span of ten to fourteen days,  Mr. Hancock was required to clean the entire plant himself.  In addition, at the same  time, Penn State significantly increased the surface area that Mr. Hancock was required to clean.

Mr. Hancock sought reasonable accommodation for his qualified disability.   On or about January 11, 2004, Mr. Hancock discussed such accommodations with his  supervisor, Mark Bigelow.  Mr. Bigelow’s sole offer of an accommodation was a transfer  to a lower level position with decreased pay.  The very next day, January 12, 2004, Mr. Hancock agreed to acceptthe lower-paying position.  However, Penn State failed to  place Mr. Hancock in this position.    

On March 1, 2004, Mr. Bigelow pressured Mr. Hancock to apply for leave  under the Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) and told Mr. Hancock that the earliest  Penn State could provide any accommodation was the end of 2004.  Moreover, Mr.Bigelow told Mr. Hancock that he must continue to perform all of the physically  demanding activities of his current position until that time and emphasized that Mr. Hancock would be required to operate the floor scrubber which Mr. Bigelow stated would likely hit Mr. Hancock directly in the liver and cause painful internal bleeding.

Mr. Hancock refused to apply for FMLA leave and continued to perform  his job despite his disability.  However, workers in the power plant increasingly  undermined his work by placing hostile notes in his locker and by deliberately making  him redo his work, by, for example, putting fresh wax beneath objects on the floor,  which when removed would expose the area that needed to be buffed.  Mr. Hancock  notified his supervisor, but no corrective action was taken.

In late April, Eileen Long, a new supervisor was assigned to Mr.  Hancock’s area.  Ms. Long made a practice of continually criticizing Mr. Hancock and asking whether he could do certain types of work, such as snow shoveling or floor  waxing, jobs that Mr. Hancock had problems performing because of his disability.  However, Ms. Long failed to provide Mr. Hancock with the accommodation he had been  previously promised, not did she offer any other accommodation. 

Ms. Long was aware that Mr. Hancock had a disability, requested  reasonable accommodation, and that he complained about the actions of co-workers.

On May 5, 2004, Area Services Manager Gregory Anderson, Janitorial  Supervisor Eileen Long, and Manager of Human Resources Susan Rutan informed Mr.  Hancock that he was discharged due to misconduct, based on statements he had allegedly made earlier that day to Ms. Long.  

On May 17, 2004, Penn State sent Mr. Hancock a letter confirming the meeting on May 5, 2004 and the termination of his employment.

Penn State terminated Mr. Hancock on account of his disability and his  continued requests for reasonable accommodation, and in retaliation for making continued requests for reasonable accommodation.  The Defendant’s alleged reason for terminating Mr. Hancock is pretextual.  

Subsequent to his dismissal, Plaintiff filed timely charges with the Equal   Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) alleging that he had been terminated  unlawfully on account of his disability. 

On July 11, 2005, Plaintiff was sent a right-to-sue letter by the EEOC. 

As a result of the discharge, Plaintiff has lost his income and has had to buy replacement medical insurance necessary for treating his terminal condition.
The case was settled in April of last year and , as is the practice with Old Main, the terms of the settlement  were sealed.

We now know that John Hancock settled his ADA case for $400,000 and his lawyer at the time of the settlement, Kathryn Chandless,(He changed lawyers midway through the case.) was paid $90,000.

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