MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

November 1, 2012

Worker’s claims against city fewer

Portions of suit dropped, city wants rest dismissed

A former city worker who alleged she was the victim of discrimination based upon race and disability dropped one claim of negligent supervision. The city is seeking dismissal of the rest.

Victoria Lawson worked as a switchboard operator two years before leaving her job in March 2011. Lawson alleges in her complaint she was harassed by other city workers who allegedly criticized her health and the way she looked.

Lawson alleges she was denied rest room breaks, which resulted with her losing control of her bladder and bowels. The former employee said her requests for reasonable accommodations were ignored and she “was treated in a manner that made it impossible to remain on the job.”

Of the 14 claims alleged by Lawson in her complaint, all but six were dismissed by agreement in July, and two others were dropped in August. The negligent supervision claim was dismissed Friday. City Attorney Roy Tucker said the remaining claims involve allegations of discrimination based upon a disability and wrongful termination.

Betty Outhier Williams, who represents the city’s insurer, argues the facts fall short of showing Lawson was the victim of discrimination based upon either race or disability. With regard to the termination claim, Williams said Lawson left her job voluntarily.

In her motion seeking summary judgment, Williams notes Lawson admitted “she is not black” despite asserting otherwise in her original complaint. Williams states the facts cited by the former switchboard operator fall short of what is required to prove a state or federal discrimination claim based upon a disability.

Charles C. Vaught, a Tulsa lawyer who represents Lawson, countered Williams’ arguments, saying his client’s medical condition satisfies the Americans With Disabilities Act requirements to mount a viable claim. The law requires a plaintiff have an impairment that substantially limits a major life activity.

“Here, it should be clear that Ms. Lawson’s impairments substantially limited operation of her bodily functions related to her digestive, bowel, bladder and neurological functions,” Vaught states in his response filed Friday.

Lawson’s lawyer further argued his client could have performed her job duties had she been granted reasonable accommodations.

Williams, however, argues no reasonable accommodation was available for Lawson, who apparently had requested immediate relief from co-workers when she needed a rest room break. The accommodation essentially would have altered the “essential functions” of her job.

“The only means by which the plaintiff could function at her job was by requiring others, co-workers and superiors, to function for her,” Williams states in her supporting brief. “There can be no reasonable accommodation when that accommodation is to be relieved of the essential function of the job.”

Williams further states no discrimination occurred since providing reasonable accommodations was an impossibility. Williams also argues because Lawson left the job voluntarily, her claim alleging termination should be dismissed.

Vaught states in his response that Williams’ reasoning “ignores the substantial record-evidence which establishes that a reasonable person facing the same situation ... would have quit.”

Tucker said a settlement conference in the case is scheduled Thursday. A Nov. 27 trial date has been set, but that could be subject to change.

Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or dsmoot@muskogeephoenix.com.

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