Saturday, December 20, 2014

Forest River accused of violating civil rights law in pregnant employee’s case

Posted on Sept. 18, 2013 at 1:00 a.m. | Updated on Sept. 18, 2013 at 12:37 p.m.

ELKHART — Local recreational vehicle giant Forest River faces a charge that the company discriminated against a pregnant employee earlier this year, according to documents from the Indiana Civil Rights Commission.

Akia Haynes, deputy director of the commission, found probable cause in the case. That means the dispute will go to a public hearing either in front of the state commission or, if both sides want it, before an Elkhart County court.

Haynes made her determination Monday, Sept. 16, after going through information from the woman and from Forest River officials.

The unidentified woman filed the complaint Jan. 22, less than a week after she was fired for insubordination for refusing to perform tasks requiring working on a ladder, according to Haynes’ findings.

The woman had worked at Forest River since February 2011. She turned over Family and Medical Leave Act paperwork Jan. 11, 2013, and two days later she was moved to another department and her pay was cut from $14 to $8 per hour, according to Haynes.

“The evidence shows and Respondent admits that Complainant’s supervisor (Bill Elliott) decided to take Complainant off of ladder work because of her pregnancy and that she nearly injured herself in the past performing such tasks. Instead, Respondent hired a new employee (Jenny Reese) to perform all tasks requiring a ladder and Complainant was reassigned to perform tasks that did not require a ladder. However, a few days later, Mr. Elliott instructed a Group Leader to order Complainant to return to working on the ladder,” Haynes wrote in her findings.

When the woman asked about the move, the group leader told her to do the job or go home. As she was leaving, Jeff Abney, general manager of that division, met her at the door along with Elliott and the group leader, according to Haynes. Abney asked if she was quitting, and the woman said she would never quit, but Abney told her that if she didn’t perform the tasks, she was quitting, Haynes wrote.

According to an announcement from the commission, “the State has concluded its preliminary investigation and determined there is sufficient evidence to support reasonable suspicion that the Indiana Civil Rights Law has been violated.”

Depending on the outcome of the hearing, Forest River could have to pay damages and change policies and training, according to the commission.