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EEOC sues Cushman & Wakefield for alleged disability discrimination

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has filed a federal lawsuit against real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield, alleging the company fired an employee who was diagnosed with breast cancer instead of accommodating her.

Toi Patterson, who worked in the firm’s Columbia office as an administrator, requested intermittent leave to undergo chemotherapy treatments and surgery after she was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer in 2014.

After Patterson returned from her first period of leave, her supervisor told her they “needed to talk” and warned her that she would need to know when Patterson was going to be late to work or absent, the EEOC’s complaint states.

Patterson feared her supervisor would make it difficult for her to use intermittent leave in the future, so she requested a period of continuous leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act that was set to begin June 9, 2014 and end Aug. 10, 2014, the suit states.

On July 31, however, Patterson asked her supervisor if she could come back to work on a fixed, part-time schedule and said she would need to take additional leave after her surgery. She also provided Cushman & Wakefield with a work-release letter from her oncologist, according to the lawsuit, which authorized her to return to work on a part-time basis, at a maximum of 25 hours a week.

But instead of contacting Patterson to discuss scheduling possibilities, the real estate firm told her the company could not allow her to work part-time and terminated her employment in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Title I of the Civil Rights Act of 1991, the EEOC alleges.

“It not only makes good business sense to make a schedule change or provide another reasonable accommodation to allow a productive, long-term worker to remain employed — it is also required by federal law,” EEOC Regional Attorney Debra M. Lawrence said in a statement.

Patterson, who was hired by Cushman & Wakefield in 2005 as an administrative assistant and promoted in 2011 to the role of senior administrator, seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, including back pay with interest.

“Firing a woman who is courageously fighting breast cancer is adding insult to injury and is unlawful disability discrimination,” said Spencer H. Lewis, Jr., district director of EEOC’s Philadelphia district office, in a statement.

Paul J. Kennedy of Littler Mendelson PC in Washington, an attorney for Cushman & Wakefield, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit.

Chicago-based Cushman, & Wakefield, has 43,000 employees in more than 60 countries. Its other Maryland offices are in Baltimore and Bethesda.

The case is Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Cassidy Turley Commercial Real Estate Services Inc. t/a Cushman & Wakefield, 1:16-cv-02788-JKB.