Former maintenance worker sues GW for wrongful termination

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo by Meredith Roaten | Hatchet Photographer

A former employee is suing the University, claiming that his work cleaning the GW Law Center was physically demanding and that officials refused to pay him while on medical leave.

A former employee is suing the University, claiming officials refused to pay him while on medical leave and then fired him after a court ordered GW to pay him the compensation he was owed.

Former floor technician Richard Ayivor is suing GW under the D.C. Human Rights Act, D.C. Family and Medical Leave Act and D.C. labor laws for wrongful termination and termination based on a disability, according to the complaint. Ayivor filed the suit Wednesday in D.C. Superior Court.

Officials allegedly fired Ayivor because of his disability – an injured shoulder. His worker’s compensation and medical leave was approved under the D.C. Family and Medical Leave Act and by his doctors, according to the complaint.

“The Defendant failed to make any reasonable accommodation for the Plaintiff, and subsequently terminated Plaintiff from his employment with knowledge of his disability,” according to the complaint.

Ayivor requests that GW rehires him and asks for economic, compensatory, liquidated and punitive damages in the complaint. He also requests GW pay the wages he is owed and would have earned if he had continued his employment, as well as attorney costs, according to the complaint.

An initial conference with a judge will take place July 14, where the parties will discuss the possibility of settling the suit and create a schedule for future proceedings, according to court documents.

Ayivor could not be reached for comment and his attorney Solomon Bankole did not return multiple requests for comment.

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

Ayivor started working for GW in the spring of 2008 as a floor technician, working full-time scrubbing floors, removing trash and moving bags of trash and recyclables into receptacles and trash bins, according to the complaint.

Ayivor’s work was “physically demanding” because he was allegedly assigned to clean the entire GW Law Center, according to the complaint.

Ayivor injured his right shoulder in October 2014 while at work, moving a trash receptacle to a larger container, according to the complaint. On Oct. 23, 2014, the day after his shoulder injury, Ayivor allegedly informed officials that he had been injured and was in pain.

“The pains were so intense that the Plaintiff found it extremely difficult to lift his arm, and every time he lifted his arm, he felt a sharp pain,” according to the complaint.

The same day, Ayivor went to the emergency room at Howard County General Hospital in Maryland after the pain intensified. He was diagnosed with an injured rotator cuff and a sprained shoulder, according to the complaint.

When Ayivor left the hospital, he was told not to work until Oct. 31, 2014, and filed a compensation claim with the D.C. Office of Workers Compensation Commission. Ayivor was not able to return to work on Oct. 31 because the pain had gotten worse, according to the complaint.

Ayivor then began receiving physical therapy and pain medication injections from Jason Stein, an orthopedic surgeon, who Ayivor found through GW’s workers compensation insurer, according to the complaint.

Stein ran an MRI on Ayivor that showed signs of tendinosis and a paralabral cyst in the shoulder. During treatment, Ayivor could not work and continued on disability, the complaint states.

On March 9, 2015, Stein cleared Ayivor to resume work. The next day, Ayivor returned to his position but remained in pain, so he went to the emergency room and was diagnosed with right shoulder rotator disorder again, according to the complaint.

For three months, Ayivor allegedly continued to work at GW through the shoulder pain while undergoing pain management. On Aug. 3, 2015, Ayivor requested to switch physicians to David Lutton, an orthopedic surgeon at the Washington Circle Orthopedic Associates, according to the complaint.

Ayivor left work on Aug. 18, 2015 because of a weakness and a loss of endurance in his right shoulder, according to the complaint.

Ayivor’s primary physician, who was unnamed in the complaint, conducted an MRI that showed the shoulder injury had worsened, according to the complaint.

Stein released Ayivor to the care of Lutton on Sept. 18, 2015, who put Ayivor on light duty, the complaint states. Stein and Lutton did not return requests for comment.

Ayivor then returned to work after not working since Aug. 18, 2015, but GW “did not allow the Plaintiff to work,” according to the complaint.

“The Defendant refused to pay the Plaintiff’s salary and Defendant did not pay for treatment received despite documentation provided by the Plaintiff to the Defendant that he should be on light duty because of his ongoing pain,” according to the complaint.

Ayivor continued to receive follow-up care from Lutton, who instructed him not to lift anything weighing more than five pounds. GW refused to offer Ayivor a position that did not require heavy lifting, the complaint alleges.

Between September 2015 and March 21, 2016, Ayivor did not earn income besides short-term disability payments that were approved by the University between Sept. 13 and Oct. 13, 2015, Ayivor alleges in the complaint.

“Despite Dr. Lutton’s diagnosis and the need for right shoulder surgery, Defendant terminated all benefits due and accruing to the Plaintiff as of October 2015 and denied all benefits including payments for surgery to the right shoulder,” according to the complaint.

When the University denied Ayivor compensation claims and benefits, he requested an administrative hearing in front of the D.C. Department of Employment Services. An administrative judge ordered officials to pay all the benefits Ayivor was owed under the D.C. Workers Compensation Law on March 21, 2016, according to the complaint.

A month later, the University ended Ayivor’s employment without telling him, according to the complaint. In September 2016, four months after Ayivor underwent surgery, he was cleared to return to work.

When he tried to return to work, GW informed him that he was fired on April 19, 2016 and showed him a copy of his termination letter that Ayivor alleges he was not given at the time of his firing, according to the complaint.

The University ended Ayivor’s employment “with the knowledge the plaintiff was undergoing surgery and would need time to heal from the surgery and required leave from work,” according to the complaint.

According to the complaint, the University violated D.C. laws, which prevent an employer from firing a worker because of a disability and protect workers from being fired for taking medical leave when they follow the D.C. Family and Medical Leave Act and/or file for worker’s compensation.

Genevieve Montinar contributing reporting.

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