Hamilton Marine employment lawsuit

Former employee voluntarily dismisses complaint against Hamilton Marine

By Tanya Mitchell | Feb 18, 2014
Source: File image

A Searsport woman has voluntarily dismissed her discrimination complaint alleging mishandling of a workplace injury against her former employer, Hamilton Marine, according to records at U.S. District Court in Bangor dated Jan. 30.

The notice of dismissal from the plaintiff, Pauline Knowles, followed a Jan. 22 motion to dismiss the initial discrimination complaint from the company's attorney, Shiloh D. Theberge. The document also contained the company's response to Knowles' amended complaint, which she submitted through her lawyers Suzanne Russell and Brett Baber on Jan. 8.

In the motion to dismiss, Theberge argued that Knowles' complaint should be dismissed because her allegation fell short of what the court would consider "a plausible entitlement to relief," and that a complaint, under the law, cannot survive unless it makes "a showing, rather than a blanket assertion, of entitlement to relief. In other words, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do," stated the motion. "The complaint's factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level."

Theberge also argued that Knowles' FMLA and Maine FMLA-related claims should be dismissed because Knowles acknowledged in her own complaint that she did not have a 'serious health condition' and due to that fact, Knowles was not entitled to any protections under FMLA or MFMLA.

"Second, the FMLA and the MFMLA only require that Hamilton Marine restore the plaintiff to her position if she is able to perform the essential functions of that position," stated the motion. "The statutes do not require Hamilton Marine to accommodate plaintiff's inability to perform the essential functions of her job by allowing her to perform alternate jobs."

Theberge also stated the Knowles cannot state a claim that the company interfered with her use of FMLA or MFMLA because she did not allege the company denied her requests for leave.

In addition, Theberge stated, Knowles failed to exhaust administrative remedies on the portion of her claim alleging discrimination based on a disability. That is because she is first required under the law to file a grievance with the Maine Human Rights Commission, stated the motion, and she never submitted a complaint with MHRC.

In her initial complaint Knowles contended the company forced her to take leave under the Family Medical Leave Act after she reported a wrist injury she incurred while on the job in July 2012, and that the alleged forced leave interfered with her ability to use that time at a later date for surgery intended to correct carpal tunnel syndrome.

Knowles submitted that complaint in October of last year, according to court records.

In count one of Knowles' claim, which detailed the company's alleged interference with FMLA, Knowles stated she was able to perform the essential elements of her job "or in the alternative was willing and able to answer telephones and work the cash register." The complaint further stated Knowles did not have a health condition that precluded her from working a modified duty, and that Knowles' FMLA leave time was exhausted due to the actions of the company.

In count two of the complaint, which alleged the company violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, the complaint stated if Knowles did have a "serious health condition" as a result of her hand injury, such injury constituted a disability under ADA. It further stated the company regarded Knowles as disabled under definitions of ADA.

Count three of the complaint accused the company of committing employment discrimination under the Maine Human Rights Act based on conduct described in the previous count alleging violation of ADA, and count four alleged the company interfered with Knowles rights under the Maine FMLA.

In the amended complaint Knowles submitted to the court Jan. 8, Knowles stated that prior to injuring her wrist July 12, 2012, she suffered health issues related to hives and respiratory distress "as a result of the work environment." Knowles stated in the amended complaint that she had to seek medical attention from the company physician as a result of that distress on May 13, 2012, though the complaint did not specify exactly what in the work environment caused Knowles to have that reaction.

The next day, stated the complaint, the company provided Knowles with documents relating to the Family Medical Leave Act, which Knowles completed upon receipt. After that, the complaint stated the company required Knowles to use her paid time off for appointments and restrictions pending further information from the company's physician. On June 13, 2012, the workplace doctor placed Knowles on work restrictions that required Knowles work no more than six hours per day, that she not lift more than 20 pounds and that she take a 15 minute break after each hour of work.

Court records stated that on June 26, 2012, Knowles reported a "strong smell" in the fiberglass room and that she closed the door to that neighboring room because she "felt her throat closing up." Another employee later discovered someone had spray-painted the inside of the trash can in the room, causing the odor.

According to Knowles' complaint, Knowles had a recurrence of respiratory distress and hives on that same day, necessitating another visit with the company doctor.

"On June 26, 2012, [the] defendant's company doctor treated [Knowles] for respiratory distress and hives and diagnosed [her] with carpal tunnel syndrome in both hands," stated the complaint.

The physician recommended physical therapy to address the carpal tunnel syndrome at that time, court records state.

July 12, 2012, Knowles alleged she injured her wrist while pushing a loaded cart in the company warehouse and that she immediately notified the human resources office of the injury. At that time the company required Knowles to see the company doctor again, and Knowles went to see the doctor that same day.

At that time the physician indicated Knowles could conduct "modified duty," completing tasks that could be done with one arm and hand. Knowles was scheduled to see the doctor for a second visit July 27, 2012. On the day of the reported injury, court records show Human Resources Officer Bowden completed a report in which she stated Knowles sustained the injury during "normal job duties."

A July 16, 2012, letter to Knowles from Bowden stated Knowles was not eligible for FMLA because though her health conditions "currently limit your work ability ... your hives and respiratory distress ... do not constitute a disability as described by the [Americans with Disabilities Act] and the Maine Human Rights Act." The following day, the complaint stated the company placed Knowles on phone sales for four hours per day until her next doctor's appointment later that month.

After seeing the doctor again July 27, 2012, Knowles was released to continue with "modified duty" and the doctor determined there was no permanent impairment expected. The physician estimated the length of treatment, including occupational therapy, would be between four and six weeks.

The complaint stated that in August, Bowden called Knowles during her workday and told her the company had no work she could do with one arm or hand, and sent Knowles home.

According to court records, Bowden told Knowles she must leave work full time and that she must use her FMLA leave time, which was set to expire Sept. 25, 2012.

"[The] plaintiff complied with the forced leave, but she became depressed, sought medical attention and fell behind on her bills," stated the complaint.

On Aug. 10, 2012, Knowles stated the company doctor referred her to a hand specialist and scheduled an appointment in October. Knowles relayed that information to Bowden, where the appointment was after her FMLA leave was to expire, and at Bowden's request, Knowles stated she sought a leave of absence on Sept. 19, 2012. Knowles' complaint stated she received no response from the company at that time.

Correspondence to the company from the physician dated Sept. 21, 2012 indicated Knowles required continued evaluation and treatment and that she would be seeing an orthopedic specialist on Sept. 25, 2012. A short time later, Knowles filed a worker's compensation claim.

After an Oct. 19, 2012 doctor's appointment, the complaint stated Knowles provided the company with records of that appointment. On Oct. 22, 2012, Greabert gave Knowles a letter of termination accusing her of falsifying Sept. 21, 2012 and Oct. 19, 2012 medical records by "checking the 'work-related' box and the 'one hand/one arm work only' box" on those records.

In her initial complaint, Knowles did not make note of her hives and respiratory distress but detailed her allegations specific to the wrist injury, at which time she stated she was not diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome until October 2012.

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