Panama City VA employee sues agency over alleged lack of accommodation for her disabilities

By Karen Kidd | Jun 14, 2018

PANAMA CITY (Florida Record) – A Panama City woman employed by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs is suing the VA for failing to adequately accommodate her disabilities that she claims stem from an ongoing spinal condition.

PANAMA CITY (Florida Record) – A Panama City woman employed by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs is suing the VA for failing to adequately accommodate her disabilities that she claims stem from an ongoing spinal condition.

Catherine Oxley filed a 17-page complaint June 4 in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida, Panama City Division, against the VA claiming to be victim of discrimination on the basis of her disability and/or perceived disability. Oxley claims the VA is liable for "differential treatment" she has received and is also liable for refusing to reasonably accommodate her and failing to engage in the interactive process with her.

"As a direct and proximate result of defendant's conduct described above, plaintiff has suffered emotional distress, mental pain and suffering, past and future pecuniary losses, inconvenience, mental anguish, loss of enjoyment of life and other non-pecuniary losses, along with lost back and front pay, interest on pay, bonuses, and other benefits," the filing said. "These damages have occurred in the past, are permanent and continuing. Plaintiff is entitled to injunctive/equitable relief."

Oxley worked for the VA since March 2010 as a licensed clinical social worker at the VA's outpatient clinic in Panama City, "providing mental health services at defendant's primary care clinic," the complaint said. Oxley claims in her complaint to be "a member of a protected class because of her actual or perceived disability," the complaint said.

Before working for the VA, Oxley "experienced issues with her spine," her complaint said.

"Over the course of several years of doctor visits and testing, in October 2015, plaintiff was diagnosed with a serious musculoskeletal condition that was exacerbated over a two year period due to defendant's failure to provide plaintiff an appropriate accommodation," the complaint said. "As a result, due to the serious spinal condition, on October 27, 2015, Plaintiff provided defendant with a letter from her physician recommending ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) accommodations to varied ergonomics within her workspace, including but not limited to a chair and a stand-up desk."

Despite her own efforts to obtain those accommodations, it would several months before she received a bariatric chair, and Oxley was told "there was no money in the budget to purchase her a stand-up desk," her complaint said.

Oxley's complaint describes efforts made to provide her with accommodation, including a stand-p desk that was too high for her to see the screen, despite being repeatedly told there was no money for accommodation. In April 2017, "after repeated denial for accommodations, and concerns for her safety" she filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission "due to the defendant's failure to provide a reasonable accommodation," her complaint said. 

The Department of Labor denied Oxley's requests for reconsideration because she submitted medical information from a chiropractor rather than a medical physician, the complaint said.

"Due to the worsening condition, chronic pain and defendant's failure to accommodate plaintiff, she can no longer work more than five hours per day," the filing said.

In July, her supervisor told her "she should go talk to human resources to consider retirement," her complaint said.

In September, following an MRI on her spine, Oxley "was diagnosed with a skull based brain tumor," she underwent surgery the following month and she was scheduled for additional surgery later this month. "To date, plaintiff's stand-up desk has not yet been replaced and a supportive chair has not been provided," Oxley said in her complaint.

Oxley is asking the court for, among other things, a judgment against the VA, equitable relief, general and compensatory damages, attorneys' fees and costs.

The case was filed on Oxley behalf by Tallahassee attorney Marie A. Mattox under case 5:18-cv-00133-MCR-GRJ

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