Woman says AT&T discriminated against her

By Chris Dickerson | Jan 31, 2006

CHARLESTON – A Kanawha County woman alleges she was discriminated against by AT&T and her former supervisor there because she had to miss work as a result of a work-related injury.

Denise Higginbotham filed the lawsuit Jan. 13 in Kanawha Circuit Court against AT&T Corporation and Jane Ann Mainolfi.

Higginbotham, who was hired by AT&T as a clerk in 1994 and became a customer service representative in 1996, suffered an on-the-job injury on May 10, 2004 when she fell in the bathroom.

She suffered cervical strain, back pain, knee sprain and an injury to her coccyx, according to the suit filed by Charleston attorney Lonnie C. Simmons. The injuries were found compensable under the state Workers' Compensation program.

Higginbotham says she had to miss work for doctor appointments and that some of the physical therapy caused great pain, forcing her to miss more work.

But, the suit alleges, the defendants counted many of these missed days as chargeable absences.

On Sept. 3, 2004, Higginbotham returned to work despite the fact that she had not been released by her doctor to do so. On that day, she was fired based, in part, on the absences related to her medical problems.

That, she claims, is a wrongful firing in violation of the West Virginia Human Rights Act. She says her condition qualified her as a person with a disability according to the Human Rights Act.

She says she was discriminated against because the firing was based upon absences required as result of her disability.

Higginbotham also says the defendants failed to reasonably accommodate her disability, which is another violation of the state Human Rights Act.

Also, Higginbotham points out that an employer can't discriminate against an employee for a workers' comp claim and can't fire someone for missing work for a injury ruled compensable by workers' comp and that the employer must reinstate the employee to his former position provided it is available and that the employee can perform the duties.

In the suit, Higginbotham seeks compensatory damages because she claims she has suffered numerous compensatory damages, including past and future lost wages, annoyance and inconvenience, embarrassment, humiliation, emotional distress and expenses, including attorney fees.

Also, in light of AT&T closing its Charleston office later in 2004, she also seeks to recover the separation from employment package she would have received.

In addition, Higginbotham seeks punitive damages because the defendants' conduct was "reprehensible, fraudulent, wilful and wanton, malicious, and in blatant and intentional disregard of the rights owed to plaintiff."

She requests a jury trial.

The case has been assigned to Circuit Judge Irene Berger.

Kanawha Circuit Court case number: 06-C-57

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