Fight for your rights

If you have a strong case, you will prevail, but it might require a fight.

If you have a health problem, your employer is supposed to accommodate you, if at all possible. A federal employee recently had to appeal to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to secure those rights.

The case in point involved Patricia Kendrick, a U.S. Postal Service employee at a post office in Fayetteville, N.C. Kendrick gave her supervisor a doctor's note dated Jan. 3, 1996, explaining that the three hours of sick leave she took the previous week was due to asthma, which was aggravated by renovations taking place at work. Kendrick's supervisor told her to "clock out" and not return until he told her to. Kendrick refused because she didn't want to lose any pay. So her super-visor clocked her out.

A second note from her doctor dated Jan. 5, 1996, stated that fumes from the construction were aggravating her asthma and asked for her to be temporarily relocated. On Jan. 10, the Postal Service moved Kendrick to another office and allowed her to work there until the construction was complete.

Subsequently, Kendrick filed an EEOC complaint claiming that the post office discriminated against her because of her medical condition (asthma) when she was forced to "clock out" and take leave. Kendrick said she was entitled to be compensated for time lost on Jan. 5, 6 and 9, and for when she was forced to leave work on several other occasions and take unscheduled sick leave because the fumes from the construction work were aggravating her asthma.

The postmaster in Fayetteville, at a hearing held by the EEOC administrative judge, claimed he contacted Ken-drick's doctor and spoke to a nurse who told him the doctor no longer felt it was necessary for Kendrick to have a dust-free environment. Yeah, right. Kendrick's supervisor said that immediately after that purported conversation, she was reassigned to work at the Fort Bragg office. He added that he had accommodated Ken-drick in 1995 because of similar circumstances.

On a previous occasion, Kendrick had asked for an accommodation because of a sprained wrist, but her request was denied. At that time, Kendrick's supervisor — the same supervisor — placed her on five days of unscheduled leave, which prompted Kendrick to file an earlier EEOC complaint.

Kendrick argued that her present treatment was in reprisal for her previous complaint. After all, Kendrick had informed the Postal Service of her asthma when she was first hired. The EEOC judge agreed. The Postal Service was ordered to restore Kendrick's sick leave and give her whatever other benefits she was entitled to as a result of the restoration of that leave.

What does this story tell us? If you have a strong case, eventually you will prevail — but you have to be willing to fight for it. n

Zall is a retired federal employee who since 1987 has written the Bureaucratus column for Federal Computer Week. He can be reached at miltzall@starpower.net.

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