EEOC charges Nashua firm in disability case
The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has charged a Nashua company with firing a worker because she has a heart condition. It's one of the few, if not the only, such cases litigated by the EEOC in New Hampshire under the Americans with Disabilities Act.The EEOC claims in a suit filed in U.S. District Court in Concord that Windmill International Inc. fired Nancy Hajjar on April 12, 2010, a week after she said she needed to take off time for a procedure to clear clogged arteries and perhaps for heart surgery. Hajjar had already told the company in March 2010 that she had blocked carotid arteries, a potentially life-threatening impairment of her circulatory function, according to the EEOC.Hajjar began working as an accountant at the firm in June 2008."Defendant terminated Hajjar because of an actual and/or perceived impairment of her circulatory or cardiovascular functions," the suit charges.The company told the EEOC that it fired Hajjar for performance issues, but didn't put her on a written performance plan, as it did others with performance issues, so the explanation was "false," according to the EEOC."When an employer fires someone because the employee has disclosed a serious medical issue, she is at her most vulnerable," said Markus L. Penzel, trial attorney in the EEOC's Boston area office, which has jurisdiction over New Hampshire. "She deserves understanding and cooperation, not a pink slip.""We believe we will be absolved of wrongdoing," Peter Bennett, a Portland, Maine-based attorney representing Windmill, told NHBR. "I don't believe the EEOC investigated everything, sand we have evidence that justified what we did. The government is going after a small business that is part of the backbone of this economy."EEOC cases rareWindmill, a defense contractor formed by veterans in 1988, does a lot of business with the federal government, according to its website. In its latest press release, the company boasts that it won the federal Small Business Administration Tibbetts Awards, which honor projects that bring federal R&D from the lab to the market. It works for NATO and the U.S. Air Force. And Windmill's portable receiver suites were created with funding from the U.S. Government's Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) programThe EEOC receives many charges of discrimination, but rarely litigates them in court. According to the agency website, there were almost 100,000 complaints filed nationwide in fiscal year 2010 (which ended Sept. 30 of that year), about a quarter of which involve disability discrimination.But the agency only brought 271 suits that year, and only 41 were disability-related claims. A search of the federal court database for the last decade reveals only one case filed by the EEOC in federal court in New Hampshire for any reason -- this one. The search would not turn up any EEOC suits filed in New Hampshire court nor did it find suits filed by the New Hampshire Human Rights Commission, which also files discrimination suits.