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Former Discovery Communications employee files discrimination suit

Discovery Communications Headquarters in Silver Spring. (The Daily Record /Maximilian Franz)

Discovery Communications Headquarters in Silver Spring. (The Daily Record /Maximilian Franz)

A former employee of Discovery Communications has filed a discrimination lawsuit against the Silver Spring-based media company, claiming she was held to higher standards than male colleagues and retaliated against when she complained.

Kenyatta T. Allen, who worked for Discovery for 11 years before she was fired, further alleges the company refused to accommodate her request to move to a different department — a request Allen says she made at the suggestion of the psychiatrist she visited due to the “mental and emotional anguish” caused by her immediate supervisor.

As an “operations specialist” supporting Discovery’s eastern regional sales department, Allen was tasked with meeting annual sales goals, a requirement she had no trouble accomplishing before her supervisor began a “campaign of harassment and retaliation” against her, the lawsuit alleges.

“She had been working there for 11 years, and 10 of those 11 years she had the highest sales numbers,” said Dipo Akin-Deko of Akin-Deko Professional Services Firm PLLC in Alexandria, Va., who is representing Allen. “At the end of the day, this is a situation in which several individuals in supervisory roles basically had the opportunity to ensure she wasn’t in this environment, then discriminated against her based on her sex as well as not giving her an accommodation.”

A Discovery Communications spokeswoman did not immediately return a call seeking a response to the lawsuit.

Decreased responsibilities

In early 2010, Allen complained to the human resources department and to the vice president of operations that her supervisor, Stephanie Timberlake, was creating a hostile work environment, the suit states. When nothing changed, Allen decided to take medical leave.

After she returned, Timberlake reassigned Allen’s major accounts, giving a significant portion of the work to a young male colleague, the complaint states. As a result, Allen saw a sharp decrease in her sales numbers.

When Allen asked Timberlake why many of her duties had been shifted to other employees, Timberlake could not give her an answer, the suit claims.

In February 2012, Timberlake began emailing Allen with concerns about her productiveness at work. However, the sales numbers she referenced did not support her claim that Allen’s numbers were notably poor, according to the complaint. Rather, they showed that another male employee had similar sales figures, so Allen again complained to human resources.

Allen and Timberlake met with a human resources representative on Feb. 24, 2012, along with the vice president of operations, Alwin Alleyne. Discussion during the meeting focused on Allen’s sales numbers rather than the problems between Allen and Timberlake, according to the suit.

Disability discrimination

Allen soon visited her primary care physician because of the physical and emotional strain of her work environment, the complaint states. The physician placed her on medical leave and advised her to see a psychiatrist, whom she first saw on April 2, 2012, the lawsuit states. The psychiatrist recommended that Discovery make accommodations for Allen to institute a “medically safe return to work,” according to a letter filed as an exhibit with the lawsuit.

“Prior to [Allen] returning from medical leave, her psychiatrist, Dr. Spencer, had requested she be given reasonable accommodations in the form of moving her to a different department,” the lawsuit states. “Despite having more than 500 employees and several departments [she] could have been moved to, Defendant refused to comply with this reasonable accommodation.”

On May 22, 2012, after Allen returned to work, Timberlake told her she would be placed on a 30-day performance improvement plan, the suit states. At her first progress report on June 6, Timberlake said she had not made a sale between May 24 and June 4. But when Allen requested to see a copy of the report, she was told that the numbers were correct and that there was no need for her to verify them. Shortly after, she was fired, the complaint states.

The lawsuit alleges violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Maryland Fair Employment Practices Act. Allen is seeking back pay and benefits, as well as front pay, damages for pain and suffering and $135,000 in punitive damages.

The case is Kenyatta T. Allen v. Discovery Communications, 8:15-cv-01817-PWG.

About Lauren Kirkwood

Lauren Kirkwood covers the business of law beat at The Daily Record.