Nursing employee’s ADA claim proceeds

Jason Boleman//January 10, 2022

Nursing employee’s ADA claim proceeds

Jason Boleman//January 10, 2022

A nursing employee’s claims that her former employer violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, by failing to accommodate her disability survived a motion to dismiss filed by the employer.

A motion to dismiss by an individual defendant in the case was also granted in part and denied in part.

U.S. District Judge John A. Gibney Jr. made the ruling in a Dec. 3 opinion from the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. The case, Scheurer-Henry v. Envoy of Richmond, was heard before the court’s Richmond division.

Alleged ADA violations

In October 2017, the plaintiff, Bashan Scheurer-Henry, applied for a job at Envoy of Richmond, which court documents describe as “a 174-bed skilled nursing facility” in Richmond. Scheurer-Henry suffers from rheumatoid arthritis and Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, meaning she cannot do jobs with high physical demands.

The plaintiff interviewed with Veronica M. Haskins, Envoy’s director of clinical services. After learning of an open wound care coordinator position, Scheurer-Henry explained to Haskins that the position would be ideal, as she “would not have to pull and push and tug on patients, actions that [she] could not perform because of her disabilities.”

Envoy hired Scheurer-Henry to work four days a week as a wound care coordinator. The plaintiff said she was told by Envoy that she would not have to engage in physical interaction with patients. Envoy agreed to Scheurer-Henry’s request for an iPad or computer to take notes with in place of handwritten notes.

According to the opinion, Scheurer-Henry realized that Haskins “had misrepresented the actual scope” of the role and was demanding that she “also perform the job of a treatment nurse.” These additional tasks required Scheurer-Henry to perform work beyond her physical capabilities and allegedly made her physical conditions worse.

Scheurer-Henry alleged that Haskins fostered a toxic work environment and berated her for her medical conditions and religion. She also alleged that Haskins “used the threat of reporting [Scheurer-Henry] to the Virginia Board of Nursing as a means to induce [her] to continue working at Envoy.”

The plaintiff continued to perform her additional duties until her February 2018 termination, during which time Haskins allegedly “falsely represented” that Scheurer-Henry had not done any work on a day where she worked 13 hours.

Envoy contested Scheurer-Henry’s ADA claims, arguing that she failed “to adequately allege that she is a qualified individual with a disability within the meaning of the ADA.” Envoy further claimed that Scheurer-Henry failed to link her disabilities with any adverse employment action and failed to exhaust any administrative remedies.

Envoy and Haskins also contested Scheurer-Henry’s breach of contract and tortious interference claims, claiming Scheurer-Henry failed to “adequately allege the existence of a valid contract.”

Most motions denied

Gibney rejected the defense request to dismiss Scheurer-Henry’s ADA claims.

“Scheurer-Henry adequately alleges that she is a qualified individual with a disability,” the judge wrote. Gibney added that the plaintiff had adequately alleged her disability and, considering those allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, the court could determine that at minimum her medical conditions “impair her ability to complete the major life activities of ‘performing manual tasks.’”

Gibney also noted that because Scheurer-Henry could perform the functions of wound care coordinator if given a reasonable accommodation, she also adequately alleged she is a “qualified individual.”

Envoy contended that Scheurer-Henry had not exhausted her administrative remedies for a claim of disparate treatment, citing precedent that requires filing a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission before pursuing a federal suit.

In her EEOC charge, Scheurer-Henry checked boxes indicating that she faced discrimination based on race, retaliation and disability. But because she did not mention the disability discrimination claim in the narrative portion of the EEOC charge, Envoy argued that nullified her disability discrimination claim.

Gibney ruled against this argument.

“The Court refuses to impose this hyper-technical pleading requirement on Scheurer-Henry. Her EEOC charge clearly indicates an allegation of disability discrimination. Scheurer Henry’s mention of other forms of discrimination does not invalidate this allegation,” the judge wrote.

As for whether an adverse employment action occurred, Gibney wrote that in the context of ADA discrimination a plaintiff must show that an employer took action that either adversely affected her employment or altered the conditions of the workplace.

While Scheurer-Henry never claimed her termination was disability related, Gibney wrote that she does claim Envoy required her to perform tasks beyond her role.

“In this case, because of the degree of the changes in Scheurer-Henry’s duties and the surrounding context, including her eventual termination, the Court finds that Scheurer-Henry adequately pleads that she suffered an adverse employment action as a result of her disability,” the judge wrote.

Gibney went on to deny Envoy’s motion to dismiss the breach of contract claim, finding that Scheurer-Henry had alleged the existence of an oral contract that illustrated both the duties of the position and the accommodations Scheurer-Henry requested.

However, Haskins’ motion to dismiss the breach of contract claim against her was granted, as Gibney wrote that she “was not a party to the employment contract” and thus “cannot be held individually liable for breach of contract.”

Scheurer-Henry alleged Haskins made her work experience more burdensome “by harassing, retaliating and extorting”  her and demanded more from her role while knowing she could not satisfy many of those demands due to her disability. The plaintiff also alleged that she lost her employment with Envoy as a direct result of Haskins’ alleged misconduct.

Gibney concluded that Scheurer-Henry adequately alleged the elements of a tortious interference claim, and rejected Haskins’ motion to dismiss.

Charlottesville attorney Steven S. Biss represented Scheurer-Henry. Haskins was represented by Fairfax attorney Robert P. Floyd III, while Washington, D.C. attorney Lela M. Adams represented Envoy of Richmond.

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