March 9, 2007
Morristown, NJ - After a six-week trial, a Middlesex County, NJ jury found that Kelly Services, Inc., a Fortune 500 company specializing in temporary and permanent employee services, intentionally discriminated against former employee Deborah Brown when it terminated her and failed to provide reasonable accommodations in connection with her disability. The nine-person jury levied an $847,150 judgment against the international staffing firm.
“Based on the case we presented and on Deborah's compelling testimony, the jury clearly understood the illegality of Kelly Services” actions, not to mention the indifference of an international employment services company committing intentional disability discrimination against one of its own valued managers,” said Kevin Barber of Niedweske Barber, P.C. in Morristown, NJ.
Ms. Brown started with the company in 1991, but her troubles began in November, 2000 when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a chronic disease that affects the central nervous system. Up until that time, she had worked as a branch manager for Kelly Services' Princeton and Piscataway locations, receiving excellent reviews and consistently performing at a level that exceeded the company's expectations. Based on her fine performance record, Kelly Services promoted Ms. Brown in 1999 and transferred her to its Kelly Scientific Resources business unit.
Shortly after learning of her illness, Ms. Brown informed her managers of the diagnosis,
including the fact that she suffered from the vision and balance problems commonly
associated with the disorder. In order to continue to perform the outstanding job she
was known for, she asked the company for help in the form of ergonomically correct
office equipment and a reduction in the number of face-to-face sales calls.
Despite her repeated requests, Kelly Services refused to provide Ms. Brown with new
office equipment, although it did provide extra equipment to other, non-disabled
employees who requested it. In addition, the company not only failed to reduce the
number of face-to-face sales calls, but increased them, making it physically impossible
for her to perform her job.
Then in January, 2003, three Kelly Services managers appeared in Ms. Brown's office
to tell her she was terminated and demand that she immediately leave the premises.
Subsequently, a human resources manager assured Ms. Brown that he would try to
find her another job with Kelly Services, and emailed her regarding several job opportunities within the company. However, in February, 2003 when she asked him for
descriptions of those jobs, he fired her. According to this human resources manager,
Ms. Brown was an “onus” when she asked him for more information about these jobs. Despite Ms. Brown's frequent attempts to obtain the accommodations she needed, company officers denied any wrongdoing and claimed that they provided everything that she requested.
In addition to the emotional and physical distress brought on by her on-the-job issues,
Ms. Brown's testimony detailed the financial difficulties which forced her to sell her
home, her health insurance concerns, and the loss of independence she endured when
forced to rely on government disability benefits.
The jury decided in Ms. Brown's favor on two counts: that Kelly Services discriminated
against her because of her disability, and that it failed to provide her with a reasonable
job accommodation so she could remain gainfully employed. The $847,150 verdict
included $47,150 for lost wages which were capped due to Ms. Brown’s receipt of social security benefits and $800,000 for pain, suffering, and loss of enjoyment of life. It was based, in part, on testimony by treating physicians, as well as expert neurologists and psychologists, who testified that Ms. Brown's multiple sclerosis symptoms were worsened by the stress she experienced as a result of the disability discrimination and wrongful termination.
Ms. Brown was represented by Kevin Barber and Chris Hager of Niedweske Barber,
P.C. of Morristown, New Jersey. Niedweske Barber was also assisted by NorthStar Litigation Technologies of Roseland, New Jersey, who provided the technology support during trial. Defendants were represented by John Bennett and Joe DeBlasio of the Roseland, New Jersey law firm Connell Foley.