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Anxiety over rush hour commute at center of employee lawsuit

Ask anybody what the worst part of their average workday is and there is a very good chance they will name their drive to and from the office. Interestingly enough, the rush hour commute is taking center stage in a wrongful termination lawsuit filed in the state of New Jersey.

According to the complaint, the plaintiff, who was hired by the defendant financial corporation as a marketing coordinator back in 2007, started undergoing treatment for depression and anxiety in 2012, and that these symptoms were "especially aggravated by crowded roadways experienced during the heavy traffic of rush hour."

Her condition ultimately became serious enough that she stepped away for several months of treatment, her position protected by the Family Medical Leave Act. Upon her return, she asked her superiors for work hours that would enable her to miss the morning and evening rush hour, something her treating physician strongly recommended.   

The complaint goes on to state that while the request was initially granted, it was soon revoked. Furthermore, it alleges that the plaintiff was given a poor performance review and reassigned to otherwise menial clerical work not within her job description during this time.

Finally, it states that she filed an internal complaint with her employer's ethics review board in May 2013, but was terminated before receiving any sort of reply.

The federal lawsuit, which is seeking lost wages, as well as compensatory and punitive damages, alleges that the employer violated both the FMLA and the state's anti-discrimination law by failing to make a "reasonable accommodation," such as revising her schedule, allowing her to work from home part-time or reassigning her to another branch.

"She in no way had any desire to escape the workday or lessen her workload," said the woman's attorney.

Even though this case is being heard in another state, it serves to underscore how employees across the nation, including right here in Minnesota, have rights and protections under both state and federal law. Furthermore, it demonstrates that employees have options if they believe that they have been unfairly terminated by their employer.

Source: Lancaster Online, "Fulton Financial Corp. wouldn't let NJ employee avoid rush hour, lawsuit says," Tim Stuhldreher, June 27, 2014; CBS Philly, "NJ woman sues former employer over rush hour anxiety," Steve Tawa, July 2, 2014

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