CHARLESTON – The West Virginia Division of Motor Vehicles has won its appeal in a discrimination case filed by a woman with a traumatic brain injury.
The Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia made its ruling in January. The case was filed by Renee L. Richardson-Powers and the West Virginia Human Rights Commission after Powers was let go from her DMV customer service representative (CSR) job after several months of allegedly unsuccessful training.
Richardson-Powers, who suffered a brain injury after a fall from a ledge near the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. as a child, testified that she has difficulty learning from the injury in what results as “cognitive deficits.” She applied for the CSR position with the DMV in 2010 and began her six-month probationary employment with the organization on March 22, 2010.
According to court documents, Richardson-Powers did not disclose her brain injury or her learning difficulties at the time of the job interview and initially told her office manager, Christine Frick that she learned best through repetition and note taking. During her first week of employment she was assigned a trainer, Angie Kuykendall, who asked to be relieved of her duties because of the difficulties she was having with Powers.
According to Kuykendall, Richardson-Powers was uncooperative, refused to take notes and would wander away from her DMV window. To further accommodate Richardson-Powers, a second trainer was appointed, Danetta Calhoun. She experienced similar problems with Richardson-Powers, who then revealed to Frick that she had a brain injury and didn’t want her co-workers to know. Richardson-Powers again told Frick she learned best through repetition and note taking.
On the seventh day of her employment, Richardson-Powers was moved to a third trainer, Terry Graves. Richardson-Powers became upset with Graves after being reprimanded in front of a customer and was reported by Graves as not believing what she was being told about how to perform her position.
Richardson-Powers was given her own DMV window to operate on April 11, 2010, performing what the DMV considers the easiest transactions – tag renewals and driver’s licenses. During her time working solo, Richardson-Powers was reported to continue to ask management questions during every transaction she handled.
On Richardson-Powers’ 60-day review, she asked for additional training, which was provided by the DMV. It was observed that Richardson-Powers could manage the tasks if someone was sitting with her. The DMV felt she should be able to do the job on her own at this time. A 90-day review was held, and Richardson-Powers requested that Frick contact her brain trauma counselor. Frick denied the request but was later contacted by the state director of the Americans with Disability Act. Frick told ADA that Powers had not provided any proof of her disability. Richardson-Powers was then denied “reasonable accommodation under the ADA” by the West Virginia Department of Transportation, court documents state. She was terminated from her employment on Sept. 30, 2010.
Richardson-Powers filed suit and was awarded back pay, attorney fees and allowed to be reinstated at her position with the DMV. The decision by Judge Robert B. Wilson was adopted by the Human Rights Commission and later appealed by the DMV. In its appeal the DMV, cited that Richardson-Powers wasn’t a “qualified person with a disability” and could perform the functions of the position with reasonable accommodation.
Dr. James Petrick, who had examined her, testified that the position as CSR would have proved challenging for Richardson-Powers as it required problem-solving with each transaction, something that would give Richardson-Powers trouble. Her past jobs involved repetition, while the DMV CSR position would involve unique handling with each customer. Dr. Petrick, also went on to say that Richardson-Powers personality would be difficult to manage and could potentially frustrate a customer.
The court ruled that the Richardson-Powers could not prove that she was a qualified candidate that could perform the job duties with reasonable accommodation and reserved the decision of the commission.