Woman says she was fired because she was pregnant

By Kyla Asbury | Feb 4, 2013

CHARLESTON – A former employee is suing Dunbar Center for wrongfully terminating her employment because of her pregnancy.

Sunbridge Dunbar Health Care Corp. is doing business as Dunbar Center.

Debbie Thaxton, an employee of Dunbar Center, was also named as a defendant in the suit.

In 2008, Sheena S. Desper began working for the defendant and when she became pregnant in December 2011, she decided to keep her pregnancy confidential due to the way she had seen other pregnant women being treated at work, according to a complaint filed Jan. 14 in Kanawha Circuit Court.

Desper claims in February 2012, she had a casual conversation with Thaxton and asked if there were lighter duties for a person who was pregnant, and Thaxton replied that if an employee was not injured on the job, there was no light duty and that if an employee could not fulfill the job duties, she could not work.

In May, Desper was due for her yearly review and met with the staff development coordinator, Mary Koloda, to take a PPD test, which checks for tuberculosis exposure, according to the suit.

Desper claims she was concerned about possible effects on her pregnancy and revealed to Koloda that she was pregnant and asked her to keep it confidential.

In June, Desper’s physician told her that she was not to lift more than 25 pounds at work and she expressed that she could not turn in a light duty slip because her employer would not allow her to work and she needed the money, according to the suit.

Desper claims in August she told her physician she would need to take a leave of absence from work because lifting had become too much for her to do and her physician wrote a letter stating she should be limited to eight-hour shifts and to not lift more than 25 pounds.

On Aug. 5, Desper put in a notice of medical leave stating that her last day would be Aug. 12, and that once she received medical clearance from her physician, she would return ot work, according to the suit.

Desper claims on Aug. 12, she went to work for her last scheduled shift before her leave of absence, but she was unable to clock in or log onto the website for her continuing education and the scheduler was unable to tell her why she could not clock in to work.

On Aug. 13, Desper received a call from Thaxton asking her why she had come to work the previous day and she explained that she was working her shifts until her leave of absence and that the previous day was her last scheduled workday, according to the suit.

Desper claims Thaxton then informed her that she was terminated because she could not stay on the payroll and that they could not hold her job while she was on leave.

Thaxton further stated that because Desper was a part-time employee, she did not qualify for FMLA benefits, according to the suit, and Desper asked her to put the information in writing.

Desper claims “Thaxton wrote a letter stating that Plaintiff had terminated her employment on Aug. 6, 2012, due to health reasons.”

Upon receiving the letter, Desper contacted the unemployment office and was instructed to contact Human Rights regarding pregnancy discrimination.

Desper claims the defendants discriminated against her because of her pregnancy and violated the West Virginia Human Rights Act.

The defendants failed to reasonably accommodate her with time off of work and discharged her while she was pregnant, according to the suit.

Desper is seeking compensatory and punitive damages with pre- and post-judgment interest. She is being represented by Matthew S. Criswell, Mark L. French and Steven M. Condaras.

The case has been assigned to Circuit Judge James C. Stucky.

Kanawha Circuit Court case number: 13-C-58

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