Intel Sued Over Disability Discrimination

The tech giant was sued by a former technical support worker who was offered a choice between severance and a probationary performance improvement plan.

The problems began when Intel absorbed the internet security company, McAfee. The worker says Intel discriminated against his “Trigger Point Syndrome,” which he was diagnosed with following a series of personal tragedies. McAfee is once again a standalone company as of April 2017.

Anthony Ruger was a SIEM Technical Support worker for McAfee earning over $96,000 per year in the summer of 2015. When Intel purchased McAfee that July, he was presumably relived when they decided to retain his position, salary and benefits.

Unfortunately, that September, Ruger suffered a series of personal tragedies including, “one suicide, one attempted suicide, and two deaths all of people closely related to him,” and began suffering from a painful burning sensation in his stomach, according to a complaint filed Wednesday in federal court.

The problem soon spread to his hands, lasting for multiple weeks at a time. After meeting with four separate orthopedic specialists in conjunction with his psychologist, he was diagnosed with Trigger Point Syndrome.

According to the complaint, “Trigger Point Syndrome occurs in people, like [Ruger], who previously suffered from carpal tunnel syndrome and had surgery to correct it. Trigger points begin to cause intense pain in the wrists and hands. The disease is treated with steroid shots, but Claimant could only receive them every three months, during which time the excruciating pain would recur.”

Ruger says the syndrome severely limited his ability to type, which in turn impacted his job performance.

By fall of 2015, he had missed two mandatory training sessions due to the ongoing medical issues, and was told by a supervisor to make sure it didn’t happen again. According to the complaint, Ruger did so, up until major changes were made to the processes used by himself and other support workers.

“As a result, all of [Intel’s] employees, including [Ruger], were required to type an independent report for every ticket before it was closed. Absent a completed report, the ticket would remain open,” the complaint states, it continues, “This change drastically increased the amount of typing required of [Ruger], which exacerbated the excruciating pain he was suffering in his hands.”

To make matters worse, Ruger was diagnosed with severe depression that same October, according to the complaint. Ruger relayed this diagnosis, along with the information regarding the impact of the increased typing on his hands to his supervisor, but says his complains were retaliated against, rather than appropriately addressed.

According to the complaint, management began scrutinizing Ruger’s performance more than it had in the past, calling him in for one-on-one meetings each time he was flagged for falling behind on complaint tickets.

Eventually in one of the meetings Ruger was offered a choice between severance worth six months salary plus benefits, or to go on a “performance improvement plan.” According to the complaint, Ruger relayed that he liked his job, and so wished to go on the plan. He also reminded his supervisor that he was having problems completing the tickets due to his depression and Trigger Point Syndrome, and requested reasonable accommodation.

In this meeting, Ruger says he was told that he would be fired if he missed one correspondence on any ticket, according to the complaint.

According to the complaint, Intel offered him an ergonomic keyboard, but “failed to participate in a meaningful conversation regarding [his] request for a reasonable accommodation.”

Around his time Ruger found out that other coworkers were not required to fill out reports for every complaint ticket, and so were able to complete tickets much faster than he was.

Ruger says shortly after he was offered the choice between severance and he plan, his ticket load increased exponentially  while on the plan. Due to the plan, he says he was additionally required to perform and write-op customer follow-up, again increasing the amount he had to type.

According to the complaint, Ruger somehow managed to meet all of the plan’s requirements, with his supervisor telling him, “It looks like you are going to breeze right though this thing,” two weeks before it was scheduled to end according to the complaint.

However, when the plan did come to an end, Ruger says he was fired on the spot for missing two required training sessions. He responded by saying he had completed all required training sessions listed on the company’s website, but was told that these two sessions were not on the site and in-fact were embedded in earlier emails.

According to the complaint, “The two training sessions consisted of a 5 minute power point that had to be reviewed, and the other was a disclosure that had to be signed by [Ruger} and given to his supervisor,” It continues, “Neither training was a critical aspect of the capabilities required to complete the essential functions of [Ruger’s] job. Rather, these training sessions were used merely as a pretextual reason for Claimant’s termination.”

Ruger says he felt humiliated, degraded, victimized, embarrassed and emotionally distressed as a result of he ordeal, and “has suffered and will continue to suffer the loss of income, the loss of salary, bonuses, benefits and other compensation which such employment entails, and Claimant also suffered future pecuniary losses, emotional pain, humiliation, suffering, inconvenience, loss of enjoyment of life, and other non-pecuniary losses,” stated the complaint.

He is suing on four counts, four employment discrimination and retaliation related, and one of aiding and abetting. He is represented by attorney Samuel C. Wilson, who filed the suit in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Judge Timothy J. Savage is presiding. Ruger’s supervisor, Robert Knollenberg is named alongside Intel Corporation as a defendant.

McAfee declined to comment, given the suit is only against Intel.  Intel’s Corporate Headquarters phone number rings once, and then disconnects. They did not return an email requesting comment.

According to a 2009 study, “Trigger points are promoted as an important cause of musculoskeletal pain. There is no accepted reference standard for the diagnosis of trigger points, and data on the reliability of physical examination for trigger points are conflicting.”