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Macon car shop employee says he was mocked for disability, sues. Did company violate ADA?

Macon Telegraph - 6/15/2024

Jun. 14—Reality Check is a Telegraph series digging deeper into key issues and focusing on accountability. Have a suggestion for a future story? Email mynews@macon.com.

A former repair technician at a Macon car dealership has sued the owner of the dealership, alleging he was discriminated against for disabilities and mental health conditions.

Tommy Chancey, the former employee at a Macon car service center owned by Five Star Automotive Group, alleges he was ridiculed and discriminated against for his anxiety, manic depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Five Star Automotive Group owns 18 new and used car dealerships and collision centers in Georgia, including multiple locations in Macon. Chancey worked at a location on Wimbish Road, a service center at Five Star Hyundai of Macon.

The lawsuit also alleges Chancey also had three herniated disks in his back. When he expressed concern to his manager that he needed to take leave because he impacted the injury, he was called a "b****."

He worked there from Feb. 27, 2020, until Aug. 4, 2023, according to his lawsuit, and this incident occurred in July 2023.

Chancey also alleged in his lawsuit that whenever he would complain about issues that affected his mental health at work, the lawsuit indicated that his supervisor would respond with "What kind of Tommy do we have today?"

Chancey was also not told he had protected leave under the Family Medical Leave Act, the lawsuit argued.

The lawsuit alleges Five Star Automotive Group violated federal law, infringing on the Americans with Disabilities Act and the FMLA, court documents filed Wednesday show.

Chancey had informed his manager on repeated occasions that he needed time to rest during his shifts after being exacerbated by the physically intense and "hostile" work environment, but was never given resources or accommodation, according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit says he was still able to perform his job with or without accommodations at the time.

Chancey told a former coworker in August 2023 that he was being treated harshly by his manager and was thinking about going to human resources to file a complaint, according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit says his manager confronted Chancey about his intention to go to human resources, and told him he'd be fired for it. Chancey said he was being treated unfairly.

Chancey was fired from the collision center three days after he and his manager argued, citing his lack of attendance and poor work performance. The lawsuit contends that the supervisor's reasons for firing Chancey were false since he had never been disciplined and, whenever he requested time off, it was due to his medical condition and covered under the FMLA.

Chancey was also called "a damn good technician" the same day he was terminated, the lawsuit alleges.

The lawsuit argues the manager of the shop interfered with his FMLA rights by failing to tell him about the federal law. By doing so, he says in his lawsuit that his manager retaliated against him and acted with malice and reckless indifference.

The court document also argued his manager discriminated against Chancey for his disability, refused to act in good faith and failed to allow him to exercise reasonable accommodation. It also said his manager retaliated against Chancey for complaining about his treatment, requesting accommodation and engaging in protected activity, which violates the ADA.

As a result of his termination, Chancey has suffered "lost wages, financial losses, emotional pain and suffering, inconvenience, mental anguish and loss of enjoyment of life."

He's asking for a jury trial. He's also asking for general damages for his mental and emotional suffering, punitive damages for his manager's actions, special or liquidated damages for losing his wages and benefits, attorney's fees and expenses of litigation, declaratory and injunctive relief, and other relief he could be entitled to.

A manager at the service center declined to comment to The Telegraph. A lawsuit only tells one side of a legal argument. Five Star Automotive Group hasn't filed a legal reply yet.

What do ADA, FMLA say?

The ADA is a law that protects people who have physical or mental disabilities that limit their daily activities, have a history of impairment, or are perceived by others to have a noticeable disability. Any person who believes they are protected under this law does not need to apply for coverage.

Conditions accepted under this act are wide-ranging, including cancer, diabetes, post-traumatic stress disorder, HIV, autism, cerebral palsy, deafness or hearing loss, blindness or low vision, epilepsy, mobility disabilities that require the use of a wheelchair, walker or cane, intellectual disabilities, major depressive disorder. and traumatic brain injury.

The ADA also covers other disabilities that are not listed.

Employers who have more than 15 employees are required to provide people with disabilities "an equal opportunity to benefit from the employment-related opportunities available to others."

That includes providing their employees with reasonable accommodations that can help the person perform the duties of their job, unless doing so would be too difficult or too expensive to provide, the law says. The law advises employers not to refuse to provide an accommodation because it involves some cost. It also says the employer doesn't have to provide accommodation the employee wants as long as they provide an alternative.

On the other hand, the FMLA allows eligible employees to take "unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons." Eligible employees are those who have worked a year with a public agency, public and private elementary and secondary schools and companies with 50 or more employees, the U.S. Department of Labor says.

The Department of Labor says eligible employees are entitled 12 work weeks of leave in a year when the employee is suffering a serious health condition that will make them unable to perform the essential functions of their job.

This story was originally published June 14, 2024, 5:00 AM.

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