Morris law firm wins job bias suit: Middlesex jury awards $847K, finds woman’s disability led to her firing

By Minhaj Hassan
Daily Record

March 20, 2007

A Morristown law firm won $847,150 in an employee discrimination lawsuit for a woman with multiple sclerosis, who was fired by an employment services company in 2003.

A Middlesex County jury found that Kelly Services Inc., a Fortune 500 company based in Troy, Mich., that specializes in temporary and permanent employee services, intentionally discriminated against former employee Deborah Brown when the company fired her and didn’t provide reasonable accommodations in connection with her disability.

“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, a law firm specializing in employment law that represented Brown and has offices on Washington Street.

A statement from Kelly services sent to the Daily Record said, “We are disappointed in the verdict and are evaluating our legal options.” The company went on to say its policy was not to discuss pending litigation issues.

Brown could not be reached for comment.

An employee since 1991, Brown was diagnosed in November 2000.  Multiple sclerosis is a chronic disease that affects the central nervous system. Up until that time, she had worked as a branch manager for the company’s Princeton and Piscataway offices in Middlesex County, receiving excellent reviews and performing above the company’s expectations, the law firm said.

She was promoted in 1999 to the Kelly Scientific Resources business unit..

Shortly after her illness was diagnosed, Brown informed her managers, telling them she suffered from vision and balance problems commonly associated with the disorder. To continue her job, Brown 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, Barber said.

Kelly Services refused to provide Brown with new office equipment, even though it provided extra equipment to other, non-disabled employees who requested it, according to Barber. In addition, the company actually increased the number of face-to-face sales calls, making it physically impossible for her to perform her job, the attorney said.

In February 2003, a human resources manager fired Brown.  Company officers denied any wrongdoing and claimed that they provided everything she requested.

In addition to the emotional and physical distress brought on by her on-the-job issues, Brown talked about the financial difficulties following the termination, which forced her to sell her home, Barber said. 

The $847,150 verdict included $47,150 for lost wages which were capped due to Brown’s receipt for Social Security benefits and $800,000 for pain, suffering and loss of enjoyment of life, Barber said.

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