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Former plumber sues GW for disability discrimination

Media Credit: Olivia Dupree | Hatchet Designer

A former employee is suing the University, claiming he was wrongfully terminated after his supervisors discriminated against him based on his disability.

Former GW plumber Aaron Ball, 39, is suing the University for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act, the D.C. Human Rights and the Family and Medical Leave acts, and for wrongful termination and negligence, according to the complaint. He filed the suit in the D.C. District Court last Monday.

The complaint states that Ball was terminated in August 2015 after being suspended without pay when supervisors accused him of lying about completing plumbing work. Ball claims he was suspended because of the amount of medical leave he took, which was allowed and approved under medical leave laws and signed off on by Ball’s physician, according to the complaint.

“He was terminated solely because he was disabled and engaged in protected activities by exercising his rights,” according to the complaint.

Ball was the victim of a shooting in 1998 and had surgery in April 2014 to remove fragments of the bullet in his back and shoulder while he was an employee, according to the complaint.

Ball took multiple medical leaves because of his disability and later to recover from his surgery between March 2013 and June 2015, and claims that supervisors terminated him because they were upset with the amount of leave he took. The document alleges that Ball is protected under the ADA and other disability laws to take the leave and that a doctor provided the proper documentation for him to do so.

During Ball’s employment, employees that interacted with him “engaged in a series of acts to intentionally interfere with Ball’s ability to perform his job duties in attempt to effectuate his suspension and subsequent termination,” according to the complaint.

These employees included Executive Director of Facilities Maintenance Harold Speed, Plumbing Supervisor Thomas Wells and Marion Blythe, identified as the GW junior human resources analyst in the complaint. All three did not return requests for comment.

As relief, Ball wants the University to ensure it does not repeat its actions and stops discriminating practices. Ball also requests that he receive compensatory and punitive damages to be determined by a jury, on top of paying him wages he is owed and would have earned if he was still employed at GW and money for attorney costs, according to the complaint.

Ball and his attorney, Billy Ponds, also did not return requests for comment.

University spokeswoman Maralee Csellar declined to comment on the suit, citing a University policy to not comment on pending litigation.

Treating the injury

The University hired Ball as a plumber in 2008, and he graduated from the ABC Plumbing School in “2011 or 2012,” according to the complaint.

While at work, Ball experienced pain in his shoulder, ankle and leg and in March 2013, applied for medical leave, which was approved.

Beginning March 5, 2013, Ball went on a series of medical leaves until June 9, 2015, according to the complaint. During that time, Ball returned to work for at least one brief period in December 2013 until applying for additional leave Dec. 17, 2013.

In January 2014, Ball’s orthopedic doctor, John Byrne, concluded it was “imperative to perform a surgical procedure” for Ball to get rid of the lodged bullet fragments and to fix a torn rotator cuff, according to the complaint.

Byrne did not return a request for comment.

Ball underwent surgery April 16, 2014 and began his recovery with physical therapy soon afterward, according to the complaint.

Conflict with supervisors

Before he came back to work on June 23, 2015, Ball told Blythe, the junior human resources analyst, about his return, according to the complaint. Blythe is not listed in the GW directory.

When Ball returned, “no arrangements for him to have the required equipment necessary to fulfill his daily assignments” were completed, including supplying him with an iPhone to log his assignments, according to the complaint. Ball had to document his hours on paper although other “non-disabled plumbers” received this equipment, according to the complaint.

Soon after his return, Ball spoke to Blythe, who told him that GW still owed Ball leave. After the meeting, Ball forgot paperwork in the building, returned and overheard Speed, the director of facilities, say to Laverne Grant, the division of operations event coordinator, that he wanted to fire Ball, according to the complaint.

Blythe met with Speed and later informed Ball that he did not have available leave. Blythe “intentionally misrepresented” the available leave, forcing Ball to lose two days’ pay to go to physical therapy appointments, according to the complaint.

Ball was not able to address the issue of his leave until Wells, the plumbing supervisor, returned from vacation. Wells then told Ball that he had 21 days of leave available.

A month after Ball returned to work, Almeida told Wells that Ball had not been properly logging his assignments, according to the documents.

“If Ball’s work assignment log appeared in any way improper, it was due to the fact GWU had not provided him with an iPhone, and therefore he was forced to manually log his work on paper,” according to the complaint.

On July 24, 2015, Ball was sent to meet with Wells and Human Resources Director Claude Owens, and they “accused Ball of being untruthful” about the plumbing work he completed in Lafayette Hall 10 days earlier, according to the complaint.

Owens and Wells said Ball did not enter sixth floor rooms where records said he completed work. Instead, they said he only asked one woman in the hall if there were issues and did not enter each of the rooms, the complaint stated. They also had a videotape showing Ball “slacking on the job” but refused to show it to Ball, according to the lawsuit.

Ball’s assignment records from the day before allegedly said he disconnected and cleaned a garbage disposal in a room in Lafayette Hall that does not have a disposal. According to the complaint, Ball explained to Owens and Wells at a later meeting that he cleaned disposals in the basement of Lafayette Hall and in a sixth floor room in South Hall.

After the original meeting with Owens and Wells, Wells told Ball that Speed did not like Ball for personal reasons, including the amount of leave Ball took, according to the complaint.

Eleven days later, Ball was suspended without pay during an investigation of the alleged falsified completed job records and false logged hours, according to the complaint.

After the suspension, Byrne – Ball’s doctor – decided Ball needed to take another month of leave because of his injuries, and Ball informed the University, according to the complaint. About a week later, GW terminated Ball’s employment, according to the complaint.

GW also never gave Ball his final paycheck, according to the complaint.

Ball also applied for unemployment compensation from the D.C. Department of Employment Services after he was terminated, but the agency denied him “as a result of the findings Speed made to terminate his employment, specifically that Ball had falsified records and failed to properly follow procedure when signing in and out at work.”

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