A Tri-City Herald article announced a settlement agreement between Walla Walla County Sheriff’s Office and one of its former employees early this year. The Sheriff’s Office was accused of ongoing
discrimination and retaliation against Lucille Poirier. In the settlement, Poirier will receive $235,000, roughly a third of what she sought in her lawsuit, and significantly less than the cost of a trial. As with most settlements, the Sheriff’s Office does not admit to any wrongdoing in relation to the lawsuit.
According to Poirier, who worked at the county jail for 10 years, she was injured on the job on two occasions. After her first injury, she claims she was investigated for making a fraudulent claim with the Department of Labor and Industry. She was cleared in the investigation, but continued to face increased scrutiny at work. Poirier’s second injury, where she received a concussion, a shoulder injury and was kicked in the ribs, was more severe and she believes led to her eventual termination. As a result of her concussion, she began having more frequent headaches that became severe migraines. Poirier suffered one of these migraines while at work, and briefly laid down to rest until it was more manageable. Unfortunately, the headache returned later in the day, and she had to lay down a second time. Furthermore, a co-worker had to take her to the hospital at the end of her shift, where she received strong painkillers for her migraine. Poirier admits that she probably should have taken a sick day for her migraine, but that she did not do anything that violated jail policy while she was on shift.
Poirier claims she did not exceed her state allowed rest time and that the jail had a full staff during her break periods. She also claims that jail staff members do not have assigned break periods and they take them when they have the chance. However, it was these rest breaks that led to an internal investigation, during which an investigator did not believe Poirier’s statements, and did not feel that she was taking enough responsibility for her actions. Poirier refused to sign the resulting separation agreement and was terminated. Because she was fired, in what has been determined to be retaliation, she was initially denied unemployment benefits until an administrative judge ruled her to be eligible for benefits.
Workplace Injuries & Accommodations
Poirier suffered two work related injuries, filed claims as state and federal allows, and with rehabilitation believed she did not need accommodations for those injuries. Employers are prohibited from discriminating against an individual because of a disability, unless the disability cannot be reasonably accommodated. Such accommodations could include a quiet, low-lit area for brief rests. However, employees needing accommodations are responsible for requesting and making reasonable suggestions for those accommodations. It is then the employers responsibility to determine the feasibility of the accommodations, and further to implement them.
If you feel you have been discriminated against due to a disability in the workplace, an experienced employment law attorney can help.