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EEOC sues Sinclair Broadcast Group, claiming employee was fired because of disability

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has sued Sinclair Broadcast Group in federal court, alleging that the company fired a help desk technician after learning she had been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder.

The lawsuit, filed last week in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, seeks back pay for the technician, Kristina Pierre, and a court order prohibiting Sinclair from discriminating against employees with disabilities.

The EEOC complaint refers to Pierre as the “charging party.” Sinclair suspended her in January 2020 after learning of her diagnosis and then fired her the following week, according to the lawsuit.

The EEOC informed Sinclair in August 2021 that it had reasonable cause to believe that a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act had occurred. In February of this year, the commission issued notice that it had failed to reach an agreement with Sinclair, an indication that a lawsuit was forthcoming.

In an emailed statement, Sinclair said that it has a “consistently applied policy and practice to meet and/or exceed its legal and ethical obligations as it pertains to the treatment of its employees. Sinclair will demonstrate that its treatment of the plaintiff in this case was consistent with that principle. To protect the privacy of its employees, past and present, Sinclair makes it a practice not to comment beyond that with respect to employment matters in litigation.”

Pierre began working for Sinclair in the fall of 2019, according to the complaint. Before Sinclair learned she had been diagnosed with bipolar-type schizoaffective disorder, the company praised her job performance and did not take any disciplinary action against her.

Help desk management staff met with Pierre in January 2020 and learned of her diagnosis, according to the complaint. A few days later, Pierre took a break in a conference room. An assistant manager on the service desk came into the room and encouraged Pierre to “use the break to express her frustrations and concerns,” the lawsuit claims.

“Charging Party was not the only help desk technician who was encouraged to express her frustrations resulting from the work environment in the Service Desk department,” the EEOC wrote in the complaint.

“In front of subordinates, including Charging Party, (the assistant manager) talked about ‘stabbing people’ and knives; according to (the assistant manager) he engaged in this conduct as a means of helping his subordinates ‘relax’ and ‘get through the day.’ ”

The complaint does not detail what Pierre said during this interaction, but says that she left the conference room and her workplace that day without incident.

That evening, however, the service desk manager called Pierre and suspended her.

The manager “did not tell Charging Party that she had done anything wrong, that she violated any work rule, or that she failed to meet any performance expectation,” the complaint alleges.

During the suspension, a human resources representative called Pierre and asked about her diagnosis, medication and medical history, according to the complaint. The representative said Pierre could not return to work unless she submitted a doctor’s note.

Pierre did so, but was then told she would need another doctor’s note to return to work. Before she was able to submit a second note, she was fired on Jan. 24, 2020, according to the complaint.

The EEOC lawsuit alleges that Sinclair violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and seeks a permanent injunction blocking Sinclair from discriminating against employees with disabilities. The complaint also seeks back pay for Pierre and punitive damages.