Pharmaceutical Company Accused of Terminating Employee Over Disability Accommodations

Charlotte Merrill filed a lawsuit against her former employer, Mitsubishi Tanabe Pharma America Inc., in the Galveston County Judicial District in early July which the defendant moved to the Texas Southern District on Friday citing diversity jurisdiction.

Merrill began working for Mitsubishi in May of 2011, the filing explained, and was fired in October 2019 after taking medical leave to recover from an injury. As a result of perceived wrongful termination due to her request for disability accommodation, the plaintiff is seeking damages, interest, attorney’s fees, and costs for the unlawful acts.

Even though Mitsubishi does not have an operating location in Texas, they employ people in Texas, including the plaintiff. The complaint asserted that “throughout her tenure, Plaintiff received consistently positive feedback both from her supervisors and in performance reviews.”

The plaintiff experienced significant trauma to her face and nose in October and November of 2018. The traumas resulted in Merrill experiencing autonomic symptoms such as visual variant vertigo and facial pain. Throughout December 2018, the plaintiff was diagnosed with a concussion and multiple facial fractures with the potential of a skull base fracture. Due to her variety of injuries, Merrill had trouble “reading, sitting or standing for prolonged periods, balancing and walking.” She began short-term disability leave at the beginning of 2019. The plaintiff claimed that she kept employees in the defendant’s human resources department “apprised of her condition and continuing recovery” throughout her short-term disability leave.

On May 23, 2019, Merrill was given a doctor’s note that would allow her to work up to 12 hours per week. The human resources department told Merrill they could accommodate that schedule for one month. Steve Apple, who worked for the defendant, communicated to Merrill that he had project work that would keep her busy well into the future. He further explained that she would be able to manage the field team for the project as her recovery allowed. In June 2019, Merrill was given a performance rating of 3, which meant fully satisfactory.

By August 2019, the plaintiff was given recommendation to start gradually increasing her work hours. She communicated this to human resources and began drafting a reasonable accommodation request that involved her “weekly work hours increasing as her physical condition permitted.” 

On October 14, 2019, Merrill had a meeting with officials in the company. After asking Apple if she should be concerned about her job status, he responded by saying she was “doing a great job.” Her employment was terminated the next day since the defendant “could no longer continue Plaintiff’s accommodations.”

Mitsubishi asked Merrill to finish her projects after terminating her, which she did. She asserted that she was fired “on the basis of disability and in retaliation for requesting a reasonable accommodation.” 

The complaint cited discriminatory discharge in violation of the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act (TCHRA), retaliatory discharge in violation of the TCHRA, and failure to accommodate in violation of the TCHRA.

The plaintiff is represented by Jackson Spencer Law PLLC while the defendant is represented by Littler Mendelson.