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Wednesday, December 6, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Wednesday, December 6, 2023 | Back issues
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Kaiser Denied Family Leave, Lesbian Claims

PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) - "They are not your children," a pregnant lesbian's boss said as she denied family leave, she claims in United States District Court, Portland, Oregon.

Lisa Sweeney sued Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of the Northwest for violations of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the Oregon Family Leave Act, sexual orientation discrimination, hostile work environment, whistle-blower retaliation, retaliation for opposing discrimination and wrongful termination.

According to her complaint, Sweeney worked for Kaiser from June 2004 to May 2013, first as a Hospital Administrative Supervisor, and then manager of the Patient Transport and Lift Team, she says.

In August 2007, when Sweeney asked about FMLA leave in preparation for the birth of her twins, her boss replied "they are not your children," and denied leave, the complaint states.

Nonetheless, Sweeney gave birth to them that same month, according to the complaint.

A new boss, in 2012, agreed with the former boss that the children were not Sweeney's, and agreed with the former boss' FMLA denials, according to the complaint. The new boss also refused to cover shifts so Sweeney could be with her children, the complaint states.

Sweeney later reported the situation to human resources.

She also complained that Kaiser did not pay Sweeney as much as coworkers with similar seniority and experience, and that her boss, "on many occasions had spoken disrespectfully of gay people," the complaint states.

Sweeney also reported that two supervisors called a black employee "stupid" and one of them asked other supervisors to write the employee up so the complaints would not appear to all be coming from herself. Another time, Sweeney continued, a visitor reported overhearing two supervisors in a restroom saying, "well we finally got the last of those niggers out of here."

While plaintiff complained of discrimination and retaliation against her due to her sexual orientation and against other people due to their sexual orientation, race, age and disabilities, defendant did not take actions to correct it, and retaliated against plaintiff for her reports, the complaint states.

Later, when 500 bags of Kaiser's biohazard material were found on a nearby road, Sweeney assembled an Incident Assessment Team and responded to the biohazard, as she was Incident Commander in emergencies. Although Kaiser did not have a policy prohibiting her from leaving the workplace during a biohazard cleanup response, Sweeney was disciplined for leaving Kaiser's facility, she says.

Sweeney says in January 2013, her doctor told her not to work because she had pneumonia, but her supervisor made her work anyway and refused to take her doctor's note, saying, "quite frankly I could care less about your doctor's note."

"After working the days she was told [to work], plaintiff was disciplined for coming in to work in violation of her doctor's orders," the complaint states. (Brackets added.)

Sweeney claims these were retaliatory actions directed at her for her complaints of discrimination against herself and other gays, and minorities.

In an attempt to remove herself from the hostile work environment, Sweeney applied for other positions with defendant, but was not selected for any, the complaint states.

In April 2013, Kaiser put Sweeney on administrative leave and fired her in May, she says.

Lisa Sweeney seeks economic and non-economic damages, reinstatement, liquidated damages, costs, attorney fees, expert witness fees, pre- and post-judgment interest and a jury trial. She is represented by Daniel Snyder, Carl Post and Cynthia Gaddis in Portland.

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