Retaliation Suit Claims Employee Was Berated, Then Fired

A 50-year-old, disabled Philadelphia woman is suing her former employer, a cleaning supplies distribution company, for discrimination based on her age, gender, and disabilities. She further claims the company constructively discharged her and intentionally inflicted emotional distress

Karen Contino was hired by Y-Pers Inc. in 1993 as an office and purchasing manager. She claims her duties spanned across all aspects of the business and that she often filled in as general manager and ran the company for some time in 2016 when the owner and president, David Blum, was incapacitated. As such, in the complaint she claims she was the only older woman in a position of authority at the company.

David Blum was aware of her disabilities, which included irritable bowel syndrome, gastro-esophagial reflux disease, anxiety disorder, transient migraine headachehes, and transient ischemic attacks (strokes that last just a few minutes).  He provided Contino reasonable accommodations, including allowing her to leave work for doctors’ appointments and make up the missing time in the morning or over lunch, according to the complaint.

In 2008, David Blum’s son, Max, joined the company and worked in a non-managerial position. Max was also aware of Contino’s disabilities.  In 2012 Max became Contino’s supervisor. Contino claims Max was “unable to relate to an older woman in a position of authority in a professional manner.” He also discriminated against her because of her disabilities, “systematically sought to end her employment by intentionally inflicting ongoing emotional distress upon her and by exploiting her disability,” the complaint states.

Contino claims Max berated her in front of other employees, customers and vendors, often calling her a “bitch” or a “fucking moron.” He also was physically menacing, stood over her desk and shouted at her. Her ostracized her, preventing her from talking to customers, vendors, and other employees as well as telling other employees not to talk to her. Contino claims that Max did not treat other employees in such a manner. Those other employees were younger than her, male, or not in a managerial position.

In April 2015 when Contino requested to work the full forty hours a week and to have her job duties put in writing, she was informed by David of the “Y-Pers Rules,” which included a policy that female employees were prohibited from being in the building after 5:00 p.m., according to the complaint.  She was not given a written job description.

Max’s discriminatory actions increased over time, Contino claims, and aggravated her medical conditions.  In May 2015 Contino claims the hostile work environment caused her to leave work and seek immediate medical treatment in the emergency room. Upon her return, she was advised by David and Max not to seek workers’ compensation benefits, as they had done previously, after she slipped on ice at work in January 2011 and suffered carbon monoxide poisoning later that year.

In January 2016 Contino was attempting to fix a co-worker’s computer at around 5:00 p.m. She believed the situation was important enough to stay past 5:00. In addition, the 5:00 rule was rarely enforced as Contino and other employees were often in the building after that time. But in this instance, Max decided to strictly enforce the policy and stood over Contino’s desk and berated and screamed at her, causing her to “convulse and become visibly emotionally distressed.” She repeatedly asked Max to help her, but instead he “threw her out of the building alone and in emotional distress,” following which she “suffered a severe medical reaction.”

Two days after the incident, Contino saw her doctor who advised her against returning to work until he could re-evaluate her on February 8. Following the re-evaluation, the doctor recommended that Contino not return to work until he determined that she was healthy enough to do so. But that clearance never took place. “Due to her severe medical reaction to the discriminatory, intentional, and ongoing emotional distress inflicted by Max Blum, [Contino] is unable to work indefinitely,” according to the complaint.

Contino is represented by Earp Cohn of Cherry Hill, New Jersey who filed the action in the Eastern District for Pennsylvania.

Image source: Flazingo Photos