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James Tarquin, P.A
As part of our commitment to assist and educate employees in fighting back against the abusive employment practices of employers, we offer a broad range of information about employment law issues in our employment blog.

Wrongful Termination Lawsuit Claims That Employer Refused To Allow Employee To Work From Home

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Having litigated wrongful termination lawsuits in Florida courts for more than twenty years, our Citrus County, Florida wrongful termination lawyers know that disabled employees often need to work from home as an accommodation for their disability. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), employers must provide reasonable accommodations for employees who are disabled. Under some circumstances, employers are required to allow disabled employees to work from home as a reasonable accommodation. In this article, our Lecanto, Florida wrongful termination attorneys explain how the alleged facts in Freeman v. Learning Care Group, Case No. 18-cv-13720 (E.D. Mich. Aug. 20, 2020) are illustrative of how the ADA’s reasonable accommodation requirement applies when disabled employees ask to work from home as an accommodation for their disability.

Worker Claims Wrongful Termination

In that case, Saundra Freeman (Freeman) brought a wrongful termination lawsuit against her former employer, Learning Care Group (LCG), pursuant to the ADA. Freeman claims that LCG violated the ADA by terminating her employment instead of allowing her to work from home as an accommodation for her disability.

LCG is a national early childhood education company with over 900 early childhood centers across the country. LCG’s headquarters is in Novi, Michigan. In 2007, Freeman began working for LCG as a subsidiary operations analyst. In November 2015, LCG began a renovation of the Novi office. At the beginning of the renovation, Freeman and her co-workers were allowed to work from home three days a week. On September 12, 2016, Freeman notified her manager, Davis, that her asthma was “flaring up” due to the construction. Freeman maintains that her asthma constitutes a disability within the meaning of the ADA. Davis permitted Freeman to leave the office and work from home.

Worker Requests Accommodation

On September 15, 2016, Freeman obtained a note from her doctor stating that she was having “a severe exacerbation of her asthma” due to the dust and chemicals caused by the construction. Freeman’s doctor stated that Freeman could work offsite but requested that she “not return to work until construction is finished.” Freeman used paid time off and occasionally worked from home. On September 30, 2016, Freeman began a twelve-week leave of absence from work under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

On January 16, 2017, after her FMLA was exhausted, Freeman requested that LCG allow her to return to work from home on a full-time basis as an accommodation for her asthma. Her request was supported by a note from her doctor. LCG approved Freeman’s request with the understanding that “this arrangement will be evaluated weekly based on construction.” By February 2017, a significant phase of the renovation was complete. As a result, LCG expected Freeman to return to the office. However, Freeman obtained another note from her doctor stating that it was not in Freeman’s “best medical interest” to return to the office. Based on the opinion of her doctor, LCG agreed that Freeman could continue to work from home until the remaining renovation was complete.

On August 25, 2017, LCG informed that she was required to work, in the Novi office, on August 28, 2017 as the construction was complete. Freeman returned to the office on August 28, 2017. After spending a short time in the office, Freeman reported to a management that she experienced shortness of breath and had to leave the building. On October 13, 2017, Freeman met with management to discuss her request to continue to work from home as an accommodation for her asthma. LCG offered Freeman other accommodations, such as purchasing her an air purifier and cleaning her work station daily. Freeman asked that she be permitted to work from home for six months to give the building time to air out to see if her asthma would not be triggered.

Non-Disabled Employees Treated Better

LCG denied Freeman’s request for an accommodation. On November 3, 2017, LCG informed Freeman that she was expected to return to the office on November 6, 2017. After taking additional FMLA leave, Freeman returned to the office on February 28, 2018. However, after working for a few hours on February 28, 2018, Freeman experienced shortness of breath and chest tightening. As a result, Freeman submitted another request for an accommodation to work remotely on March 2, 2018. After taking twelve weeks of unpaid leave under the company’s leave policy, Freeman was informed on May 14, 2018 that her position was filled by another worker. Freeman was fired on May 25, 2018.

Freeman claims that she was treated differently and less favorably from two non-disabled employees, McKoy and McCloud, who were allowed to work from home. Like Freeman, McKoy and McCloud were subsidiary operations analysts and reported to the same Novi-based manager as Freeman. Since January 1, 2009, LCG allowed McKoy to work from home. Since September 2019, LCG allowed McCloud to work two or three days a week at her home.

Worse Treatment Is Evidence Of Discrimination

LCG filed a motion with the trial court seeking dismissal of Freeman’s wrongful termination claim. In doing so, LCG argued that Freeman was fired because she failed to comply with its in-person work requirement policy that required all employees to work at the office and not because of her disability. LCG further argued that it accommodated Freeman’s disability by allowing her to temporarily work from home during the renovation. However, LCG maintained that once the renovation was complete, Freeman’s request to work from home indefinitely was denied, consistent with its in-person work requirement policy. The trial court denied LCG’s motion for dismissal and ruled that Freeman was entitled to bring her wrongful termination claim before a jury for resolution.

In denying LCG’s motion for dismissal, the trial court focused on Freeman’s evidence that two non-disabled employees were allowed to work from home. The trial court explained that McCloud and McKoy both held the same position as Freeman and reported to the same manager as Freeman. Unlike Freeman, they were allowed to work from home despite LCG’s in-person work requirement policy. The trial court also noted that both McCloud and McKoy testified that working remotely does not affect their ability to do the job. This evidence, the trial court determined, showed that in-person attendance was not an essential function of Freeman’s job and that LCG did not apply in its in-person work requirement policy uniformly against all employees. Instead, LCG applied its in-person work requirement policy against a disabled employee but not against non-disabled employees. Thus, the trial court found that Freeman’s evidence established that she was treated worse than non-disabled employees with respect to LCG’s enforcement of its in-person work requirement policy. This difference in treatment, the trial court explained, was sufficient for a reasonable jury to conclude that Freeman was fired because of her disability in violation of the ADA.

Consult With Lecanto, FL Wrongful Discharge Lawyers

Based in Ocala, Florida and representing employees throughout Central Florida, our Citrus County, Florida wrongful termination attorneys have dedicated their practice to fighting against abusive employment practices. If you have been wrongfully terminated or have questions about your protection against wrongful termination under the federal employment laws, please contact our office for a free consultation with our Lecanto, Florida wrongful termination lawyers. Our employment and labor law attorneys take wrongful termination cases cases on a contingency fee basis. This means that there are no attorney’s fees incurred unless there is a recovery and our attorney’s fees come solely from the monetary award that you recover.

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