A Schenectady woman who suffers from narcolepsy is suing Amsterdam-based St. Mary’s Healthcare, alleging the hospital cut her work schedule after she returned from leave to seek treatment for the condition.
Patricia L. Gundlach, through her attorney Phillip G. Steck, is seeking unspecified damages along with back pay.
The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York, accuses the hospital of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act, the state’s Human Rights Law and the Family and Medical Leave Act.
Steck on Friday said he didn’t believe it would be in his client’s best interest to discuss the case, and he declined comment.
According to the complaint, Gundlach got a job as an athletic trainer in the fall of 2009 and took a medical leave to seek better treatment for her condition two years later.
According to the Narcolepsy Network, a nonprofit patient support group founded in 1986, narcolepsy affects about 1 out of every 2,000 people in the United States. It typically sets in between the ages of 10 and 30 and takes about seven years before symptoms lead to a diagnosis.
Related to the loss of brain chemicals that help regulate sleep and wake cycles, the affliction causes an overwhelming tiredness during the day and difficulty in staying asleep at night, among other symptoms.
There is no cure for narcolepsy, but drugs can be prescribed to treat the worst symptoms.
Gundlach in the claim contends difficulties began between her and the hospital when she sought to return to work roughly two months after going on leave.
The hospital, according to the suit, sought a “fitness for duty” certification from her doctor, which she received, but the document included a request that the hospital shift her schedule to make it possible for her to work.
The lawsuit alleges the hospital requested more information from her doctor without her knowledge and officials suggested the situation could lead to Gundlach being demoted from a full-time to a per-diem employee.
Gundlach hired a lawyer in mid-March 2012, and the lawsuit alleges communication between the hospital and her lawyer grew to demonstrate “overt hostility to plaintiff’s request for reasonable accommodation.”
Discussion then led to accusations by the hospital that Gundlach’s work performance was “deficient,” which the lawsuit likens to “direct retaliation for her having the temerity to request reasonable accommodation.”
While Gundlach was on leave, the lawsuit states, the hospital hired another person to fill in her work duties, and that person is now working full time while Gundlach’s work duties have been cut.
The suit alleges hospital officials, after reclassifying her as a per-diem employee, ordered her to return items provided by the hospital, including a phone, clothing, weather protection covers for equipment and a taping table.
She was asked to clean out her desk, and that desk was given to the new employee, according to the complaint.
Gundlach now works on an on-call basis per-diem, the lawsuit alleges.
“[Gundlach] has not been given reasonable accommodation as promised and has been discriminated against because of her disability by being forced into per-diem status, treated as a second-class employee and having her pay reduced,” the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit seeks damages including back pay, front pay, compensation for lost benefits and loss of savings and for pain, suffering and emotional harm in addition to punitive damages and attorney fees.
St. Mary’s Healthcare spokeswoman Jerri Cortese provided the following statement via email Friday: “St. Mary’s denies the allegations made in this suit, and will defend against these claims.”