County Sued for Failing to Accommodate Asthma Sufferer’s Disability

An Orange County New York health department employee has sued her employer for failing to accommodate her respiratory condition by not moving her to a non-damaging work environment.  

In 2010, according to the complaint, Beth Hoeffner was assigned to work in an office with high levels of mold and other toxins, which caused her to suffer respiratory distress, including repeated asthma attacks.  By 2014 these responses became acute.  

In late 2014 Hoeffner claims she requested reasonable accommodation for her condition, specifically to be placed in “a less toxic building.”  Her supervisors failed to provide her with the accommodation, although she claimed that other, safer locations existed and that such a transfer was feasible. 

By January 2015, Hoeffner claims she had suffered nineteen asthma attacks at work, even after taking precautions like wearing a mask, using medication and a nebulizer, and taking frequent breaks.  She says she then took the advice of her doctor and vacated the building.  She then took unpaid medical leave.  

In April 2015, after meeting with the county’s human resources office, she was relocated to the basement of another building.  According to Hoeffner, she quickly began to suffer from more asthma attacks and realized the new facility had water damage and contained high levels of contamination, which triggered the attacks.

Again, according to the complaint, she sought a transfer, but her requests were ignored.  Again, she received medical advice to stay away from the toxic environment.  

According to the complaint, Hoeffner worked in the toxic environment from May 2015 until March 2016.  At that point, the county “placed [her] on involuntary medical leave of absence . . . after [she] explained that she could no longer work at [the facility] due to the presence there of toxins which exacerbated her asthma and substantially impaired her breathing, a major life activity.”

Hoeffner claims that, together with her union representative, she suggested four possible locations where she could safely work.  The county, however, disputed this and informed Hoeffner that there was no site at which she could be accommodated and placed her on leave.  

Hoeffner is being represented by Susssman & Associates of Goshen, New York.  The case was filed in the Southern District of New York.

Orange County did not return a message requesting comment.