Woman sues DHHR, alleges wrongful termination

By Kyla Asbury | Sep 11, 2013

CHARLESTON - A woman is suing the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources-Bureau for Child Support Enforcement for wrongfully terminating her employment.

Melanie Lawson was employed by the DHHR from 2006 until her termination on Sept. 8, 2011, according to a complaint filed Aug. 21 in Kanawha Circuit Court.

Lawson claims she was employed at the DHHR's Bureau of Child Support and Enforcement's regional office in Logan, and in 2007 she became ill with an undiagnosed medical condition.

In 2009 or 2010, Lawson was seen by various physicians in an attempt to diagnose her medical condition and eventually she was diagnosed with Crohn's disease and Colitis, according to the suit.

Lawson claims throughout the time period, Lawson provided the defendant with the necessary medical excuses and properly used her accrued sick leave and in March 2010, she was given a written disciplinary warning because her combined annual and sick leave fell below 40 hours.

Also in March 2010, Lawson was advised that she could not call in sick without a doctor excuse until August 2010 or she would face disciplinary action, according to the suit.

Lawson claims she advised her supervisor that her doctor would certify that she would have flare-ups that would require her to stay home and that every time she had a flare-up, it was not necessary for her to visit her doctor, but she was advised that she would still be disciplined if she missed work due to sickness without a doctor excuse, despite having sick leave available.

On March 4, 2010, Lawson reported her supervisor's conduct to the DHHR EEO Officer, Donald Raynes, by email, according to the suit.

Lawson claims when she was absent due to a flare-up and did not have a doctor excuse, she was given leave without pay, even though she had sick leave available and she subsequently requested and was approved for intermittent leave pursuant to the Family Medical Leave Act.

In February 2011, Lawson was suspended for three days for allowing her combined sick and annual leave fall below 40 hours and was also required to maintain 80 hours of combined leave instead of the 40-hour requirement placed on other employees, according to the suit.

Lawson claims in May 2011 she was advised that she "must turn in a doctor's excuse every 30 days covering each day that you called in that month as a medical leave of absence day as pertaining to your documented chronic medical condition we have on file. Any day not covered by this excuse will be counted as an unauthorized leave of absence."

On June 16, 2011, Lawson was suspended for five days for failing to provide a doctor's excuse for every day that she was off sick and on July 6, 2011, and July 19, 2011, Lawson again sued her accrued sick leave due to flare-ups in her chronic medical condition, according to the suit.

On Aug. 23, 2011, Lawson was advised by letter that her employment was being terminated for failing to provide doctor excuses for her two absences in July, according to the suit.

Lawson claims the defendants violated the West Virginia Human Rights Act.

As a result of the defendant's outrageous conduct, Lawson suffered emotional distress, according to the suit.

Lawson is seeking compensatory damages with pre-judgment interest. She is being represented by Richard W. Walters of Shaffer & Shaffer PLLC.

The case has been assigned to Circuit Judge Jennifer Bailey.

Kanawha Circuit Court case number: 13-C-1587

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